Passengers trying to catch a flight in Chattogram usually keep their fingers crossed as they worry about whether they will make it in time to get the boarding pass; traffic in the city usually makes for a three to four-hour trip to the airport.
However, the Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) has decided to use a water route on the Karnaphuli River to ensure that air passengers do not miss their flights.
The CPA plans to provide a waterbus service to passengers who will then be able to go to the airport from Sadar Ghat in only 30-40 minutes, cutting the travel time by a factor of six.
Air passengers will board the waterbuses along with their luggage and there will be a pontoon waiting for them at Patenga, near the airport, where they will be checked-in.
The passengers will then be taken to the airport by minibuses and their luggage will be carried by vans of respective air companies.
A two-storey building has already been erected for the counter of the waterbus service and Taiobiya Construction has already constructed the terminal for the water vehicles.
“It [the waterbus service] is music to our ears,” said Sanjida Sharmin, a frequent flyer in Chittagong. “Every time I need to go to the airport, I feel that I might miss the flight.”
However, the initiative has hit a hurdle as dredging in the river is yet to be completed. Dredging had to be stopped in July, this year, due to the presence of a five-feet-thick layer of plastic waste silted at the bottom of the river.
“Hence, construction of the jetty remains stalled,” said a caretaker of the newly-built terminal.
Shipbuilding company SS Trading has already constructed four waterbuses — each capable of carrying 150 passengers — for the service.
Initially, the service will be available for airport-bound passengers every other hour. “Later on, passengers will be able to enjoy the service in half-hour intervals,” CPA Secretary Md Omar Faruque informed The Business Standard.
“All is set. Construction of both the jetty and the bus counter is almost complete. Now, the launch of the waterbus service depends on completion of dredging in the river,” Omar added.
He added that it is currently difficult to reduce traffic congestion on the road from Nimtali to the Shah Amanat International Airport at the moment, as it is the only available route.
The number trucks, covered-vans and lorries plying the road cannot be reduced until the bay terminal construction is completed.
Md Abdullah, a resident at Sholoshahar, Chattagram explained: “The airport-bound road has to handle a lot of traffic. The year-round roadwork has also added to severe gridlock on the road. If the waterbus service is launched, we will be able to reach the airport within very short time.”
What is holding up the dredging works?
The CPA at first took up the capital dredging project in 2011, and awarded the job to the Malaysian Maritime and Dredging Corporation (MMDT) at a cost of over Tk229 crore.
However, in 2013, MMDT quit halfway through the project and charged Tk166 crore for the work done.
In 2018, the CPA again undertook the dredging works with a separate project titled “Sadarghat to Bakolia Char Dredging Project,” and gave the task to the Bangladesh Navy.
The Navy then appointed E-engineering Limited as a sub-contractor to dredge 4.2 million cubic metres of silt. E-engineering then started working from October 17, 2018, but the stopped in July after discovering large amounts of polythene and plastic waste littered in the river.
The project was initially supposed to be completed within four years.
“It is necessary to import grab dredgers to remove this plastic waste,” said Commodore Khandokar Akter Hossain, engineering member of CPA.
He stated that it will take at least three months to procure these dredgers which pick up seabed material using clam shell buckets. Another two months will be required to remove all the plastic waste.
Saiful Islam, manager of E-Engineering, said they have informed the matter to both the CPA and the Shipping Ministry and are awaiting a decision on the matter.
“But I do not think only the procurement of Grab Dredger will solve the problem,” Saiful said.