Friday, March 28, 2008


Last year I wrote about a shipbuilding place we ran into while bicycling in Narayanganj. I still remember, vividly, the scale and ingenuity of the operation.

Today, I heard a talk by Mr. Saiful Islam, Chairman of Western Maritime Ship Yard Limited. His company is one of a handful in Bangladesh which builds ships for export. He said that in the last six months Bangladeshi companies had secured orders (from EU countries) of USD 600 million for building oceangoing ships.

Bangladesh is known mostly as a shipwrecking country, said Mr. Islam. But little does the world know about her long shipbuilding heritage. Hundreds of years ago, ships were built here for the Ottoman empire. The Royal Navy was also supplied by ships built here - some were used in the battle of Waterloo in 1805.

This long tradition of excellence is just one of our competitive advantages. The knowledge of English (compared to, say, Vietnamese), our innate understanding of boatbuilding (which I have a renewed respect for after my Sundarban visit - there were more types of boats than you can shake a stick at) and our competitive labor costs are other advantages.

Bangladesh can best target the market for 3000-12000 tonner boats, he said. Asked who the competition would be, he said neither China nor India is interested in <30000 tonners, and so the main competition is Vietnam.

Mr. Islam said the government needs to support this industry more. Today they get no subsidies while shipbuilding industries in other countries get as much as 40-60% government subsidy.

A very inspiring story - one which might lead to a new export breakthrough.

PS I heard the talk while on a daylong cruise on the MV Sarina, a 40 meter cruising vessel built by Mr. Islam's company. It is a marvellous boat which caters to corporate clients - a floating conference room, if you will. The occasion was a daylong seminar on the Future Directions for Bangladesh organized by The Daily Star, a day well-spent.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Sundarban Photos

Great Egret (Boro Bok) taking off for a flight.

Pugmark of Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera Tigris) at a village.

The elusive Masked Finfoot (Goilo Hansh.)

Mudskippers - fish that can climb trees.

Breather roots of Sundari tree. Mangroves survive inundation by breathing through these aerial roots.

Forest canopy from observation tower at Harbaria Eco Center.

Pond at Harbaria.

Grass and Kakra(?) plant.

Early morning ride in small boat.

Golpata - nypa palm - used for making roofs and fences.

Baen(?) trees.

View from our launch MV Aboshor, near Barisal.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sundarban Trip

From March 12-16, I went on a tour of Sundarban with Guide Tours. It was a fantastic experience, a lifelong memory.


March 12, 8am: Leave Narayanganj for Mongla on MV Aboshor, Guide's largest boat.
March 13, 10am: Arrive Mongla and transfer to ML Bonbibi, a smaller Guide boat.
March 13, noonish: Arrive Chandpai (Bagerhat dist.)
March 13, lunch: Group meets with Adam Barlow of Tiger Project who lives in Chandpai
March 13, afternoon: Explore Chandpai village
March 13, 4:30pm: Leave Chandpai to enter Sundarban, down the Poshur (aka Rupsha) river
March 13, 8pm(?): anchor for the night.
March 14, 6:30am: get on a small boat and explore a side canal, up and down
March 14, 9 am: head deeper into Sundarban
March 14, afternoon: stop and explore Harbaria Eco Tourism Center
March 14, night: anchor in Mongla
March 15, 6am: board the paddleboat ship PS Mahsud (Rocket) for Sadarghat
March 16, 5:30am: arrive Sadarghat.


Sundarban is 6047 square kms (Bd part). It was first protected by the British in the nineteenth century. It is composed of Reserve Forests (ie, places from which people can extract products with Forest Department supervision) and also Sanctuaries (where people cannot extract anything.) Bangladesh Sundarban was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. Five million people live in areas bordering Sundarban, and most of them make their living from the forest.

The only practical way to get into Sundarban is by boat.

Sundarban contains between 350-500 Royal Bengal Tigers, one of three largest concentrations in the world. It contains 20 of the 50 known mangrove species. Hundreds of other types of trees, animals, birds, fishes and insects make their home here.

It is a truly magical place.

Critters Sighted

During this trip I saw chital horin (deer), shushuk (Gangetic dolphin), iraboti (Irawaddy dolphin), monkeys (rhesus macaque), mudskippers (a fish which climbs trees), the rare Masked Finfoot bird, several varieties of kingfisher, Shikra (a bird of prey), boro bok (great egret) and several types of crabs. I must have seen another two or three dozen types of birds but I don't have their names.

I saw tiger prints (pugmarks) in several places, including the backyard of a home where a dog had been taken away recently.


Among many trees, I saw Golpata (nypa palm), Keora, Baen, Gamar, Kakra, Poshur and of course the Sundari. If you are into trees, you will immediately notice the different greenery than other parts of Bangladesh, as well as the mangrove roots.

The trees were really beautiful. But I was surprised that the canopy was not so high - maybe 75-100 feet(?) At the banks the trees were shorter, and behind, inland, you could see taller trees, particularly Sundari.

Special Feature

Our group met with Adam Barlow, working on the Sundarban Tiger Project, and heard about his experiences of collaring and tracking two tigers, as well as his thoughts on man-tiger conflict.


The two Rockets are the only working paddle steamers in the world. We had cabins in the first class, where a spacious deck gives you beautiful views of the river and surrounds. Lots of dolphins on the Meghna. Food was good.


Many thanks to Mikey Leung for arranging the trip. Very special thanks to Elisabeth Monsur, our guide, whose encyclopaedic Sundarban knowledge made this trip so meaningful. Thanks also to the captains and crew of all three boats who were always helpful and cooperative.

Next time you come to Bangladesh, don't miss Sundarban. If you cannot afford five days, I understand that Guide offers a 3-day version if you fly in and out of Jessore.

Guide Tours Contact Info: 880-2-9862205;;