The government has finally begun implementation of a decade-old plan to install seven coastal radio communication stations equipped with high-end lanterns, by replacing the three existing old lighthouses, with a view to ensure safety and security of people and vessels in the sea.
The introduction of Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) and Integrated Maritime Navigation System (IMNS) is likely to take three years to complete.
The bidding process for the main construction work is likely to begin in six months, officials said.
Campaigners and experts on maritime safety and security have lauded the government initiative. They also stressed that the government should strengthen the Navy and the Coast Guard with regard to quick response in distressed situation.
Ecnec passed the Tk370 crore project on March 11, a year after Bangladesh and South Korea signed a loan agreement to implement the project which will be supervised by the Department of Shipping. The feasibility study was completed in December 2011.
The Korean government has pledged to bear 85% of the project cost while Bangladesh will provide the required land. The loan is available for a 40-year-term at 0.01% interest.
According to the Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) loan conditions, the project’s consultant must be from Korea. Top Korean companies are expected to participate in the biding process.
The project styled “Establishment of GMDSS and IMNS” would need 35 months to be implemented – 12 months for the bidding process, and the rest to complete the civil construction of the stations and the command centre, system installation, system integration, pilot operation and hand-over of the project management to local authorities.
The system will make easy to monitor passenger ships, oil tankers or fishing vessels, and track and identify vessels going missing or when capsized due to accident or stormy weather. The run-away ships after colliding with another or polluting the water will also be caught.
Bangladeshi ships and fishing trawlers having a terminal will remain connected with the control centre from anywhere of the world.
Apart from the Navy and the Coast Guard, the system information would be shared among other state agencies to ease damage or loss. Data link will be set up with the BIWTA, Chittagong Port Authority, Mongla Port Authority, Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh and the police.
The buildings and equipment of the three existing lighthouses in Cox’s Bazar, Kutubdia and the Saint Martin’s Island – are very old and backdated. They do not have any communication system installed. These buildings would be renovated and equipped with new radio signal and monitoring system.
Four other new stations would be built in Dublar Char (Bagerhat), Kuakata (Patuakhali), Dhal Char (Char Kukri Mukri in Bhola) and Nijhum Dwip (Noakhali) to cover the whole coastal belt of the country, according to the project-related officials.
The new lanterns would cover around 40-50 kilometres.
The radio stations will be connected with the Command and Control Centre in Dhaka. The main hub having state-of-the-art systems would automatically receive and analyse various distress signals, and have real-time information on positions of national flag carrying vessels across the world, status of ships and weather transmitted from the stations.
According to Coastal Association Social Transformation Trust (COAST), some 2 crore fishermen depend on the Bay’s natural resources, mainly fishing, while the coastal waters are used for 75% goods shipment and 90% oil.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of COAST, said it was more important to look into the precautionary measures than just installing signal system.
“If you cannot launch rescue operation quickly, then getting information in real time will not bring any advantage. The Navy and the Coast Guard are not equipped with modern rescue tools, rather they are accumulating war weapons. Moreover, their headquarters and regional offices are not in the coastal areas – a situation which is an impediment to quick response,” he told the Dhaka Tribune on Sunday.
Rezaul observed that the government needed to formulate a policy to assess and protect the maritime resources including fish, oil and gas.
Moreover, the government should simplify the licensing system for fishing trawlers and properly monitor their activities in the Bay to stop abuse and prevent unauthorised trawlers from going to the sea.
When contacted, a senior official of the ministry said the two security forces had been well-equipped to launch search and rescue operation in the Bay.
“The responsibilities to conduct such activities in the coastal water and deep water have been divided among the Navy, the Coast Guard and the ports,” the official told the Dhaka Tribune.
As a member state of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Bangladesh is responsible for providing information on safety of navigation, prevent accidents and implement Search and Rescue (SAR) activities for any vessel passing through its area in the Bay. The IMO introduced the GMDSS in 1992.
The project would now help fulfil requirements of the IMO and also of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas) and the SAR Convention.
Bangladesh has won its claim over 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and territorial rights in the Bay against Myanmar. The demarcation dispute resolution with India is underway. In this context, the government has revised the existing gas and oil blocks within its boundary in line with the verdict. Many measures have been taken to strengthen the Navy.
Finance was the bar
The undivided post and telecommunications ministry since 2000 had tried to manage a soft loan from the Economic Relations Division (ERD) for financing a project named “Modernisation of Silimpur and Mongla radio stations with GMDSS equipment but of no result.
In August 2006, it was decided that a loan from a foreign government would be required to implement the project. In June 2009, the shipping department was given the charge of the project. It modernised the project and prepared a new proposal.
In 2010, the Planning Commission approved the project proposal in principle on condition of availability of foreign funds.