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A load of earthen pots on a country boat headed downriver
Courtesy Bangladesh Ministry of Information


Figure 10. Transportation System, 1988

Inland Waterways and Ports

The primary transportation system of Bangladesh is its extensive inland waterways. Some 18.9 million tons of cargo (about 21 percent of the total) were moved by water transportation in FY 1986. As of early 1988, the country had 8,430 kilometers of navigable waterways, of which up to 3,058 were main cargo routes. There are seasonal difficulties in the navigability of rivers and canals for the traditional country boats that constitute the great bulk of the merchant fleet, but geography and history have made these craft the preferred means of moving goods between the ports on the Bay of Bengal and the interior and between surplus and shortage regions of the country. As of 1987, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation operated a fleet of more than 480 vessels; about half were inland and river barges, and the rest were used for coastal trade. The size of the corporation's fleet had been steadily declining over the years, but they still represented a substantial portion of the registered watercraft.

The total number of passenger- and cargo-carrying country boats plying the vast river system was nearly 300,000 and was increasing in the mid-1980s. Some of the larger boats use a single sail to supplement manpower. The larger boats carry loads up to thirty-five tons and operate with crews of three or more. Generally, they are built with a raised platform at the stern of the vessel, on which a man patiently walks back and forth with a large-paddled oar, while others may pole in the shallow water or row from the sides. At times, the boats are pulled with ropes from along the shore. These boats have a shallow draft, necessary for navigating in the extensive but very shallow river system. When loaded, the boats sit low in the water. Cargoes of raw jute or logs from the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans may fill all the interior space and project beyond the gunwales of the boat itself. Other cargoes may be bagged or covered with cloth or bamboo meshwork. Country boats are estimated to move more than 17 million tons of cargo yearly, on a system of at least 1,400 launch landings and the major river ports of Dhaka, Narayanganj, Chandpur, Barisal, and Khulna. Country boats are unsuited for the Bay of Bengal or the broad Padma-Meghna estuary. Thus coastal traffic of bulk agricultural goods is much smaller than inland waterway traffic.

Traditional and modern means of water transportation meet at the seaports of Chittagong and Chalna, where most of Bangladesh's imports and exports are transferred between dramatically different kinds of vessels (see River Systems , ch. 2; fig. 10). The government-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corporation reportedly had twenty-one oceangoing ships in its inventory in 1986, and the ships of many other nations called at the major ports. Chittagong, the principal port, has an excellent natural harbor and anchorage on the Karnaphuli River, about five kilometers from the Bay of Bengal. The port facilities were developed after 1947, and by 1970 Chittagong could berth 20 ships at a time and handle 4 million tons of cargo annually. In FY 1985, the port at Chittagong handled some 1,086 vessels and 6.2 million tons of cargo. Chalna is on the Pusur River about sixty-four kilometers south of the river port city of Khulna. Chalna was still being developed in the late 1980s, but it was rapidly gaining on Chittagong in capacity and in traffic, particularly as land and inland waterway connections also were being improved to reorient the distribution system of the west and northwest areas of the country to the newer port. The port at Chalna handled 545 vessels and 2.3 million tons of cargo in FY 1985.

Data as of September 1988

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