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Bangladesh - January 4, 2022

Shipbuilding without design goes on unabated

Use of recondition engines posing fire risk

Golam Mostafa Jibon: Use of unauthorized recondition engines on unfit water transports being built without proper design causes frequent accidents including fire incident that rising procession of corpses.
Nearly 5,000 people have lost their lives in launch accidents in the last two decades. Of them, the recent fire incident at launch has drawn attention seriously to the nation.
There are allegations that, indifference of BIWTA is responsible for these accidents. An influential quarter in collaboration with the unscrupulous officials of the BIWTA is carrying out unauthorized shipbuilding work at several dockyards without following the design of the Department of Shipping.
Experts said, the death of passengers from launch drowning is not a new incident in Bangladesh, but the death of passengers in a fire incident at the launch has shocked whole people of the country.
According to multiple sources, the launch called MV Abhijan-10 plying on the Sugandha river in Jhalokati caught fire with a reconditioned engine on December 23 last that claimed lives of 41 persons. The engine was installed on October last after the previous engine broke down. However, the matter was not reported to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
According to the preliminary investigation after the accident, the launch caught fire due to the explosion of the engine. Besides, the launch did not have adequate fire extinguishers and life-saving buoys. Drums loaded with diesel, gas stoves and cylinders for cooking were also kept besides the engine room without approval.
Not only MV Abhijan-10, many launches are being operated in the country with reconditioned or old engines of sea-going ships. This is why, the risk of fire at engines is much higher. Moreover, many passenger vessels are being run without fitness. As a result, question has arisen about proper surveillance.
During a spot visit recently, this correspondent found that, old vessels were made new ones at Keraniganj dockyard on the banks of Buriganga near the capital.
The malpractice is going on violating rules after managing the officials of BIWTA, many claimed.
“Both the new and reconditioned engines can be used in boats. But, there is a need to take approval of the authorities concerned. We allow reconditioned engines in new and small vessels. If someone wants to use old engine, we fix its installation method,” said BIWTA Engineer and Ship Surveyor Mahbubur Rashid.
He further said, “We have come to know that, the launch caught with fire recently had been using a reconditioned engine. It was installed without approval.”
After the fire incident, the authorities concerned have come to know about many more such vessels operating in many routes with reconditioned engines without permission. Those were also built out of design.
Besides, thousands of water transports are plying on different routes across the country, most of which have no registration, sources said.
According to the statistics of the World Bank (WB), about 7,45,000 trawlers, speedboats and other types of motorized vessels ply the rivers of Bangladesh. The number of passenger vessels is about 4.85 lakh. But according to the BIWTA, the number of vessels registered in the country is much lower than the World Bank’s statistics.
Seeking anonymity, an official of the BIWTA said, the total number of registered vessels in the country is only 14,000. Of them, only 8,000 of the vessels have operating approval according to the fitness. Of them, only 800 are passenger vessels.
Mahbubur Rashid said, “Many transports are using reconditioned engines of sea-going ships without approval. But, we can’t do anything as vessel owners kept the matter secret. However, the authorities took action, if the matter comes forward during the inspection.”
BIWTA’s chief inspector Md. Shafiqur Rahman said, “I have no idea about how many ships are running without fitness. We however, are carrying campaign against unfit vessels. But, a section of dishonest people are building water vessels without design. As a result, the number of unfit vessels is on the rise on the waterways.”
BIWTA sources said, some 33 inspectors were deployed across the country to check the fitness of the vessels. In the last one year, they filed cases against 770 vessels.
According to the Fire Service sources, at least 3,486 accidents occurred on different waterways in five years from 2016 to 2020. In the incidents, 3,117 people died.
According to the statistics of ‘Save the Road’, 138 people were killed in 712 water transport accidents this year.

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