After an oil tanker spilled 350,000 liters of oil into the River Shela on Dec. 9, the UN called on the government last week to stop all traffic through the Sundarbans, which is the world's largest mangrove forest.
The decision to reopen the river came after an inter-ministerial meeting Tuesday, chaired by Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, following apparent pressure from the Bangladesh Shipping Workers and Launch Labor Organisation, which threatened to shut down all shipping transport across country if the channel was not opened by Jan. 6.
Khan told reporters that the route is opening temporarily and only in daylight hours. "No oil tanker would be allowed in the channel," he added.
The ministers also requested another shipping route, unused since 2004, be prepared for use by June. Khan said that once that route is ready, the Shela river will be closed.
The Sundarbans is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home for hundreds of rare species, including the endangered Bengal tiger and riverine dolphins.
The UN statement last week told the government that the December spill should serve as a "wake-up call" about protecting the Sundarbans.
"The shipping of oil through a sensitive environment presents a serious risk to both the environment and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods," said the statement.
The Shela river channel had remained closed entirely since the tanker sank after colliding with another vessel, spilling its contents over an area of at least 350 square kilometers.