DHAKA (AFP) – A Frenchman has set sail from Bangladesh in an "unsinkable" eco-friendly boat partly made of jute in a bid to promote the natural fibre and highlight the plight of Bangladeshi fisherman.
Corentin de Chatelperron, 26, said the journey from the southern Bangladeshi beach town of Kuakata to his native France will take around six months, and will include stops in Colombo, Oman and Djibouti.
"I am making this journey to highlight the problems facing Bangladeshi fishermen, for whom the sea is becoming increasingly dangerous due to the global warming," Chatelperron told reporters before his departure on Wednesday.
Bangladesh is one of the countries most affected by climate change with many experts blaming global warming for a recent spike in cyclones, which have killed thousands of people including fishermen who live along the coast.
"It will also raise awareness about the natural fibre, jute, which has been facing some tough competition from synthetic fibres," he said.
Chatelperron's nine-metre (27 feet) boat, the Taratari, is made of 40 percent jute and 60 percent fibre glass. It was designed by French naval architect Marc Van Peteghem and constructed at a shipyard near Dhaka.
"It's the first time a sailing boat partly made of jute has braved oceans," Yves Marre, who built the boat, told AFP. He added the ship had been equipped with GPS and high-tech safety gear.
"We believe this kind of part-jute boat cannot sink. This could prevent hundreds of deaths on Bangladesh's rivers and sea. It is also cheap: Taratari cost us only 10,000 dollars," he added.
Marre said the long-term goal was to build fishing boats from jute.
Jute was Bangladesh's main export item in the 1990s, supporting millions of farmers and factory workers. But with synthetic fibres proving more durable, jute -- once lovingly called Bangladesh's Golden Fibre -- lost its shine.
"Using jute for boat construction is a unique innovation that has the potential to revive the jute industry here," said Saiful Azam, the deputy chief of Bengal Jute, whose company also supported the Taratari journey.
Bangladesh last year exported around 400 million dollars worth of raw jute and jute goods, making the fibre a distant third in the country's export basket. Shipments of garments alone earned 12.3 billion dollars.
"If we can replace a fraction of the thousands of wood and steel boats in Bangladesh with jute-made boats, it will change the face of jute industry," Azam said.