Mahfuz Emran: According to the Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, 4,236 people have died in 4,791 naval accidents in the country in the last seven years. Two thousand 614 people were injured. According to the departmental statistics, the highest number of naval accidents and deaths are in Dhaka division and the lowest in Sylhet division.
Abdullah Al Jaber’s (28) village home is in Faridganj upazila of Chandpur. The eldest of the three brothers, Jaber completed his master’s degree from the Department of Public Administration, Dhaka University (DU). Besides studying for a job, he was working in the freelancing profession. In the water-soil-air of the growing village. But I never learned to swim.
That is why there was always reluctance to navigate the waterways. But who knew, one day this river will be the last journey of life!
On March 20, Jaber went out to visit Munshiganj with his friends. Their launch sank in the Shitalakshya river after being hit by a cargo ship in Syedpur area of Narayanganj Sadar. Like friends, Jaber also jumped into the river to save his life. This young man, who did not know how to swim, may not have realized yet that the lamp of life is about to fall on him. Two days after the launch sinking, Jaber’s frozen body was found.
The picture of such a tragic accident on the country’s waterways is not new. Every year many lives are lost prematurely while navigating the river. In June last year, a MV Peacock-2 sank on the Buriganga River, killing 34 passengers. Three months ago, the whole country was shaken by the death of 44 people in a terrible fire in the passenger launch MV Expedition-10 at midnight on Sugandha river in Jhalokati. Hundreds of passengers were injured.
Waterways could be an easier means of transportation than other modes of transport in riverine Bangladesh. There was a time like that. But the scene has changed. The reality of river and shipping has changed. Many rivers have already lost their navigability due to pollution. There is no desired progress in maritime management. Even then, cost-effective rivers are still the main means of communication for millions of people.
However, the waterway is now a death trap for a variety of reasons, including overcrowding, natural disasters, incompetent drivers, mechanical faults, competition in navigation, installation of new engines without inspection and permission, and violation of navigation rules. Where major accidents happen at different times of the year. The number of casualties is increasing due to various reasons including lack of life jackets or life buoys in the launch, lack of firefighting equipment, water in the bucket and inability of passengers to use water or sand in case of emergency.
The biggest river accident in the country took place in 2003, in Chandpur. The launch named ‘MV Nasrin-1’ bound for Bhola from Dhaka burst due to loading of extra passengers and cargo. Officially, it provided information on the recovery of 741 bodies, but privately, the number is about 600.
Chief Inspector of the Department of Shipping Shafiqur Rahman told that several reasons have been identified for the passenger launch accident. One of the causes of accidents is collision of one launch with another, extra passenger transport, launch operation in hostile weather, fires and explosions, man-made mistakes, poor management of navigable routes and ports. However, due to the unconsciousness of the passengers, sometimes naval accidents happen.
Every day millions of people travel in different waterways of the country including the southern region. There are allegations that the launch owners risked their lives to transport the extra passengers to calculate the higher fare. This is why all the terrible accidents happen. But before the investigation of an accident is over, a new accident overwhelms it. Despite the assurances given at various times by the owners of the concerned ministries of the government starting from the owners to resolve this mismanagement of the waterways, there has been no improvement or change in the situation.
In this regard, the Secretary General of the Bangladesh Passenger Welfare Association. Mozammel Haque Chowdhury said that accidents on waterways occur due to various reasons including extra passenger and fare collection, issuance of survey certificate and route permit through risky launch irregularities and corruption. Launch owners and operators are playing with the lives of many passengers with risky engines or bodies as there is no monitoring system in launches like buses. Despite the increase in launch fares year after year, passenger service and passenger safety are still outdated. This is going to be the risk of death on the waterway.
Analyzing the data of the Department of Shipping, it is seen that about 54% of the launch accidents that have taken place in the country since 2016 have been due to collisions and collisions with other vessels. 23 percent of accidents are due to hostile weather and the remaining 23 percent are due to overcrowding, cracks in the launch floor, mechanical faults, fires and explosions.
Fifty years after independence, there is still no timely and effective law on navigation in the country. The people involved in the shipping sector think that the matter is very sad. An ordinance, The Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1978, was enacted to ensure safe and pollution-free navigation in inland waters during the military rule in the country after 1975. About 48 years have passed since then.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives legitimacy to martial law, has been repealed, and one launch accident after another has occurred. But the country’s shipping is running with that law of the military regime. The Ministry of Shipping has not been able to finalize the new waterway law due to one water accident after another.
After drafting the law more than once, it is still stuck in the drafting of a draft law called ‘Inland Navigation Act, 2021’. Section 63 of the draft law provides for a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or a fine of three lakh rupees or both for offenses and penalties. Section 80 of the law also provides for the punishment of the directors of the company in case of accident.
However, due to the disagreement of the owners, the law has not been finalized yet. Again, only the Government Employees (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 2016 can be taken action, but the law does not provide any punishment or punishment for the negligence of the person who gave the launch or ship survey certificate or the responsible government employees.
After each accident, one or more investigation committees are formed in a benevolent manner. Each inquiry committee makes recommendations on the cause of the accident, identification of the person responsible, ways or means to prevent such accidents in the future, but they do not see the light of day. Again, there is disagreement on various issues as each committee gives investigation report without any coordination. The implementing authorities were hesitant to implement the recommendations. In the end, no recommendation is implemented.
Accidents on waterways are much riskier than any other means of transportation. The loss of life and property is more. As a result, an effective and separate law is necessary to form an investigation committee on the basis of merit and experience, specifying the cause of the accident and what kind of action should be taken. Professor Mahbub Talukder of the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) thinks that one accident after another is being witnessed on the waterways because it is not happening.
“We are not even in the vicinity of the standard process of investigation,” he told. That is why the accident happened again. After almost every accident we blame a group but in fact those who are responsible are still in the committee. Those who are indirectly involved are also in the committee. Therefore, the law should be such that there will be a clear mention of who will be in the inquiry committee, what role they will play.
Mahbub Talukder said that monitoring should be intensified first to prevent maritime accidents. At the same time, it is important to ensure the provision of punishment for those responsible in the law, to take appropriate action against those who break the law, and to raise public awareness as well as law enforcement.
An investigation committee is formed with all the experienced and concerned people.
“According to the investigation report, appropriate action is being taken against the person responsible for the evidence,” Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping Mohammad Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury told. We do not set up committees of inquiry with those who appear to be directly involved. The person in charge of shipping, the engineer and the concerned people including the professor of BUET are in the investigation committee.
Appropriate action is also taken on the basis of investigation report and recommendations. We have taken action against those directly involved in the accident. We also ensure that they are not promoted in their jobs. We have increased allocations to reduce waterway accidents through infrastructural development. I am trying to reduce the suffering of the people.
“We have sent the draft law to the cabinet,” he said. Gave some observations. I hope I can finalize this draft law with the opinion of all concerned. ‘
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