Before the outbreak of coronavirus, at least forty vessels would cross the channel daily
The movement of vessels through the Gabkhan Channel under Jhalakathi and Pirojpur districts has started to increase.
After the outbreak of Covid-19 across the country, Gabkhan Channel - the only international naval route in the southern part - witnessed the lowest traffic until the first week of July.
The 18-kilometer channel has linked the River Shandhya of Jhalakathi to the River Kacha of Pirojpur.
According to the sources of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) in Barishal, the excavation of the channel started in 1912 and was completed in 1918.
All the vessels crossing the channel have to pay tolls depending on the size and load. A large vessel has to pay Tk8,000 and a small engine boat pays Tk50, while vessels of average size pay between Tk3000-5,000, said Maruf Hossain, manager of toll collecting office of the channel.
"Before the outbreak of coronavirus, at least forty vessels would cross the channel regularly and we received a smart amount of revenue. However, during the pandemic, the number has dropped to five to ten vessels a day," he said.
The vessel movement started to increase from this week and now about 20 to 25 vessels cross the channel in a day, he added.
The channel, known as the Suez Khal of Bangladesh, is used for communication among the ports in Chattogram, Mongla and Dhaka.
It cuts the journey by up to eight hours for all the vessels in the port routes, said Azmol Huda, the deputy director of BIWTA in Barishal.
Mainly feeder vessels use the channel for going to Mongla-Chattogram-Dhaka and theses vessels can usually carry 800 to 1500 tonnes of goods, he added.
"If the channel was not excavated all these vessels would have to use outer line ways through the sea which is very risky for such vessels," Azmol said.
"This channel is very important for our business as we can import all goods directly from Haldia port in India to this district using the canal," said Nizam Uddin, former president of Barishal Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Shakil Ahamed, a captain of an oil tanker, said that they cannot use sea routes with those vessels because of rough waves in some points. The waves could damage their vessels.
"We have to drive slowly through the channel for its narrowness and a submerged island at the estuary of the River Sungandhya. The channel needs massive excavation," he added.
The channel was excavated in the dry season at some spots, and if needed it would be excavated more, said Azmol Huda, deputy director of BIWTA.