Water vessels are being loaded with rice, lentils, flour and other consumable goods. Some vessels with furniture and other domestic appliances. The vessels are transporting the goods from Khatunganj of Chattogram to different districts.
This is now the usual scenario at the entrance of Chaktai Canal in the port city of Chattogram.
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, vehicle movement has stopped on the highways. Since fewer vehicles ply the highways, they demand higher fares. So, the transportation of goods by road has drastically dropped and traders are now using waterways as alternative routes.
Meanwhile, passenger transportation has also stopped on the waterways due to the shutdown. So, passenger vessels are also participating in transporting goods.
The owners of transportation vessels said that costs are lower using waterway transportation.
It costs around Tk30 to carry a 50 kilogram sack on the waterways while the cost is Tk50 to transport the same amount of goods via road.
The transportation of goods via the waterways, from Khatunganj, had declined for multiple reasons, but it is now increasing due to the crisis created by Covid-19.
After visiting the site, it was found that hundreds of water vessels are carrying goods to various destinations. The waterway workers are very busy.
Kabir Ahmed, a helmsman of MV Sultan Ahmad – that runs in Kutubdia route – said that he is getting four to five trips in a week. However, earlier, the number of trips was merely two, he added.
According to the Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, the water vessels carry goods from Chattogram to different destinations, including Hatia, Swandip, Kutubdia, and Moheshkhali.
More than a hundred water vessels transport goods via these routes. Moreover, around 300 sampans (traditional wooden boats) are also engaged for this purpose.
Based on their size, water vessels can carry up to 120 tonnes of goods – but a large truck cannot carry over around 20 tonnes of goods.
Syed Sagir Ahmed, general secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, said that the movement of goods-carrying trucks has stopped completely.
"Waterways are the only way due to the Covid-19 crisis. Previously, transportation via waterways declined as it takes time for the vessels to reach their destination. Though the businessmen relied on road transport for the goods' transportation, they have reverted back to the waterways," Sagir Ahmed said.
Tazul Islam, a trader of Swandip said, "Thereis no road transportation in Sandwip. So, we are relying on the seaways. Therefore, I use boats to transport goods."
Previously, the water vessels contacted traders for trips but the scenario has changed now, he said, adding that they must contact the vessel owners to book their trips in advance.
"Earlier, we used to send rice via vehicles in Cox's Bazar, Bashkhali, Boalkhali and in other areas. The cost was Tk5,000 but that has reached to Tk10,000 now. Besides, there are no vehicles available now and the cost of using boats is lower. So, we prefer boats," said Omar Azam, general secretary of Chaktai Rice Mill Owner Association.
Piyar Ali, president of Karnaphuli Sampan Majhi Kalyan Samiti said, there are three thousand sampans in the area.
"Among them, around three hundred sampans are engaged in goods transportation. They are routed in different areas including Karnaphuli, Parial, Boalkhali. We are getting more rent than previously," he said.
Since Chattogram is on the coast, mainstream business activities of the area rely on seaways.
The seafaring tradition is 1,200 years old. In line with Chattogram businesses, water vessels are a source of reliance for the businesses of Khatunganj as well.