The under construction Payra Sea Port in Patuakhali eventually might have to be abandoned as high sedimentation has been turning depth of the Bay of Bengal shallow, warned German scientist Hermann Kudrass.
Well known as professor HR Kudrass he has been studying the sedimentation process in the bay and delta subsidence for over last two decades.
Kudrass, scientific adviser of Marum University of Bremen, Germany, told New Age that to keep the Payra Se Port usable would require constant removal of sediments discharged into the bay by rivers of the world’s largest delta.
The first challenge would be dredging the 60-km-long channel with 15-meter draft to make the port accessible to ships, he said.
The 2nd challenge would be constantly guarding against the channel getting refilled by tides and surges during storms and cyclones, said Kudrass, whose studies helped Bangladesh win the maritime dispute with Myanmar at the Hamburg based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
During his visit to Bangladesh to attend an environ mental conference on January 15, Kudrass told New Age in an interview that to dredge the 60-km-long access channel would initially require removal of 100 million cubic meters of sediments.
He showed a newspaper report about a Euro 864 million deal signed on the previous day between the Payra Port Authority and a Belgian company for dredging a 75-km-long access channel with a draft of 10.5 metre.
‘It is just the beginning of the problem,’ said Kudrass.
He said that since 1994, he conducted five expeditions in the Bay of Bengal as the chief scientist on board a research vessel.
He said that three of the expeditions were funded by the German government.
The objective, he said, was studying millions of years of sedimentation into the bay and subsidence in the delta.
Continuous refilling occurs on the heels of dredging as annually about 700 million tonnes of sediment is carried to the bay by the rivers while another 300 million tonnes of sediment comprising of sand, silt and clay get settled along the way inside Bangladesh, he said.
Creation of the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta by sediments from the great Himalaya that began 40 million years or so back, still continues, he said.
Sediments carried by tides and cyclones turned a long stretch of the Bay of Bengal so shallow that it would be possible for five metre high person to walk 24 km down the sea without sinking, said Kudrass.
Kudrass presented his findings at an environmental conference in Dhaka last week in his paper, ‘Sediment Transport in the Offshore Delta of the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the access channel for the Payra Port’.
He found the first 24 km off the shore has the draft only 5 meter, and the next 22 km with 10 meter draft, and the next 14 km with the depth of 15 meter.
Kudrass said that in all expeditions he had taken on the Bay of the Bengal the captain of research vessel never allowed researchers get closer than 15-meter water depth and the vessel had to be anchored 100 km off the coast.
‘It will be absolutely impossible to keep a sea port functioning under these circumstances,’ said Kudrass.
He said that cyclones would pose the biggest threat to the port as they mobilize sediment and carry it seaward.
In a 2018 research studying 21 years history of cyclones occurring in the bay Kudrass and other scientists showed since 1985 more than a cyclone occurred annually.
He said that even an average cyclone with radius of 300 km contains the strength of several atom bombs.
‘This power house is capable of transporting huge load of sediment along its track,’ he said.
For a cyclone with the strength of Sidr it would take two hours or even less to refill the access channel to the port, he said.
Even if no cyclone hits, he said, the tides would refill the channel in a few months.
Chittagong University’s Institute of Marine Science professor Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury fully agreed with the Kudrass’s findings.
And when the sea port is under construction not on the coast but on a river how container-laden ships would enter it he could not understand, said Sayedur.
The movement of a 100-container-laden ship generally requires the minimum depth of 8-to-10-meter, he said.
The general standard of ship is to carry 300 containers which would require the draft of 12 meter or more, he said.
Sayedur said that sedimentation was always a big challenge to keep Bangladesh’s inland ports usable.
Payra Port Authority chairman M Jahangir Alam said that they were fully aware about all the problems facing the Payra Port.
But he said none would provide soft loans to Bangladesh for any project facing uncertainties.
He said that two European universities carried out feasibility studies on behalf of the investors.
According to PPA, the $16 billion 19-component Payra Port project including dredging is under implementation since 2013.
Belgium Export Credit Agency Credendo will help the PPA get the dredging loan from a consortium led by the HSBC.
Chittagong University’s Institute of Marine Science’s professor Sayedur Rahman however has serious doubts about the port’s economic prospects.
At present it does not seem that the port’s earning would make it profitable infrastructure due to constant dredging expenses, said Sayedur.
‘It seems they are literally throwing money into water,’ he said.
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