A Malaysian ship transporting humanitarian aid destined for Rohingya refugees in southeastern Bangladesh stopped off the region’s coast Monday before authorities cleared it to sail on to Chittagong port and dock and empty its cargo there.
The Nautical Aliya anchored off Cox’s Bazar district until Bangladeshi officials finally gave the crew permission to sail onward to Chittagong, as well as to allow volunteer aid workers who were on board to disembark at Bangladesh’s busiest port, government sources told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
Initially, local authorities had denied clearance for the ship to dock at Chittagong, saying there was too much traffic in the port to accommodate the vessel carrying 1,700 tons of food, medicine, clothes and blankets in relief supplies, according to a source aboard the Aliya and news reports.
The supplies will now be transported overland from Chittagong to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where at least 66,000 Rohingya have taken refuge after fleeing from a military crackdown in recent months across the border in their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar.
“Hopefully, the ship will anchor at the Chittagong port tonight or early Tuesday. We will allow the volunteers to distribute relief materials among the Rohingya living at the camps in Cox’s Bazar,” Rear Adm. Khurshed Alam, Bangladesh’s foreign secretary for maritime affairs, told BenarNews.
He said the government had yet to determine how many people among 230 volunteers from several countries would be allowed to get off the ship.
“We will meet them and issue visas to those interested. All of them may not be interested in going to refugee camps after a seven-hour journey from Chittagong,” he said.
After the supplies are off-loaded from the ship, the authorities will hand them over to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and government officials from affected districts in Cox’s Bazar for distribution among Rohingya refugees.
“The government of Bangladesh has also promised all necessary assistance throughout the mission in Cox Bazar and at the Rohingya refugee camps,” Azeez Abdul Rahim, a Malaysian who was heading the humanitarian mission and was on the ship, told BenarNews on Monday afternoon.
“We are also grateful to Bangladesh Navy officer, Nizamul Haque, who boarded the Nautical Aliya to welcome the Malaysian mission to Bangladesh,” he said via WhatsApp.
Coming from Myanmar
The ship entered Bangladeshi waters after sailing from a port serving Yangon, Myanmar, where last week the vessel off-loaded 500 tons of relief supplies destined from Rohingya in Rakhine. These included rice, instant noodles, potable water and hygiene kits.
The ship arrived in Yangon on Feb. 9 amid an anti-Rohingya protest near the dock staged by Buddhist nationalists. Myanmar authorities had prohibited the vessel from docking in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, and they also barred any of the 230 volunteers from disembarking in Yangon.
The volunteers include doctors from Turkey, Indonesia, China, the United States, France, Thailand and the Palestinian territories. In Myanmar, 30 people were allowed to disembark at Yangon port for a handover ceremony on Thursday.
“Yes, we have made all necessary arrangements to welcome the ship in Chittagong,” an official with Bangladesh’s Navy told BenarNews on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak on this issue.
Reported by Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka and Hata Wahari in Malaysia for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.