Vessel accidents continued to take lives of passengers as no owners or masters were ever punished, people flouting the High Court directives to ensure safety on the waterways continue to occupy important positions and recommendations made by probe committees following each accident always fell on deaf ears.
Experts also urged the shipping ministry to strengthen monitoring on certification process of vessels and their masters, revamp the department of shipping, activate the marine court and update the Shipping Ordinance to reduce accidents and ensure safety on river routes.
They expressed dissatisfactions over the failure to implement some 38 recommendations of the three-member committee appointed by the government to probe into the sinking of MV Nasrin-1 on July 8, 2003 while it was on its way to Bhola from the capital.
The probe committee led by engineer and ship surveyor Shafiqul Islam had submitted its report on August 2, 2003.
The probe body found MV Nasrin as unfit and unapproved since it had faulty design.
The probe committee also found that the accident occurred for non-identification of dangerous tidal waves in the Meghna-Dakatia route in Chandapur, overloading passengers and goods, employment of unskilled master and incompetence of security staff.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology’s naval architecture and marine engineering department professor Mohammad Rafiqul Islam told New Age on Tuesday that the Morning Bird launch which sank on Monday after being hit by a bigger vessel ‘does not meet any of the criteria required to be enlisted as a passenger vessel’.
Rafique said that he had been studying about 350 accidents since 2005 in which he found that 60 per cent accident occurred because of collision while 45 per cent of them sank.
A well-designed vessel would never sink after being hit by another, he argued.
He urged the shipping ministry to remove such unfit vessels in phases and stop issuing registrations to such vessels as well as to untrained masters so that incompetent drivers were not allowed to sit behind the wheels.
He also urged the government to introduce a centralised vessels traffic controlling system to anchor and release vessels to avoid collisions.
Another professor of BUET’s naval architecture and marine engineering department Mir Tareque Ali requested the government to strengthen marine court and its prosecution side as well as updating the Shipping Ordinance to ensure punishment of vessel owners, employees and masters.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association’s executive director Syed Rizwana Hasan said that Bangladesh Inland Waters Transport Corporation failed to implement the High Court directives issued on August 25, 2011, to identify unfit vessels and stop them from running in ‘any circumstances’.
There has been no step taken by the BIWTC to implement the directive to ensure that all ships will have to be run by proper teams and will have to have appropriate life-saving equipment on-board and the police will provide sufficient number of law enforcers to prevent staff from overloading the vessels.
The HC bench of Justice Mirza Hussain Haider and Justice Md Nuruzzaman issued the directive after over 300 passengers were killed when Pinak-6 capsized on August 4, 2014.
The court passed the directive after hearing a supplementary public interest litigation writ petition filed by the BELA and Consumers Association of Bangladesh as continuation of their writ petition filed in 2001.
In the original writ, the High Court had also issued a series of directives and rules in succession in 2003, 2005 and 2009, asking the authorities to explain why they would not be directed to prevent launch disasters by implementing the laws on waterways and water vessels.
The court issued on August 25, 2011 fresh guidelines, because the petitioners argued that the previous directives had not been complied with.
Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust lawyer Md Borkot Ali said that family members of 309 victims of MV Nasrin-1 launch capsize in the River Meghna near Chandpur in 2003 are yet to be paid the compensations as ordered by a lower court as well as the High Court.
He said that an appeal filed by Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority against the compensation order now remained pending with the Appellate Division since 2018.
He said that there was no bar to pay the compensations to the victims, all 110 passengers had drowned and 199 others went missing as the Appellate Division did not stay the compensation order.
The court directive requires the government to pay compensations to the injured passengers who were rescued.
BLAST had extended free legal service to the victims’ families.
Borkot Ali said that BLAST’s another suit was pending with Dhaka’s 3rd Joint District Judge’s court. The suit prayed a directive to the government to execute the verdicts for the payment of compensations.
He said that BLAST obtained a certified copy of the HC verdict on January 1, 2018.
The High Court in its verdict on June 5, 2017 upheld the directive given to the government by the Dhaka 7th Joint District Judge’s court to pay Tk 10 lakh as compensation to each family of 110 drowned passengers.
The court also gave the directive to pay same amount as compensation to each of the 199 missing passengers treating them as dead and at the rate of Tk 1 lakh to each injured passenger.
In the latest incident on Monday, the river police filed a case against the owner and six employees of Mayur-2 which hit the Morning Bird launch minutes before it was scheduled to anchor at Sadarghat Launch Terminal and seven more unidentified people at Dakkhin Keraniganj police station.
Bodies of 34 passengers of Morning Bird were rescued till Tuesday noon.
According to the Department of Shipping, at least 4,730 were killed, 511 were injured and 477 went missing in 625 waterway accidents.
The report was compiled between 1975 and 2017 by Maritime Accident Statistics department under the Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
The department statistics also showed that in 2018, in 21 waterway accidents two were killed, three were injured and five went missing and in 2019 in 26 accidents, three were killed, 33 were injured and 20 went missing.
According to the Passenger Welfare Association of Bangladesh, in 2019, in 203 waterway accidents, 219 were killed, 282 were injured and 375 went missing.
‘Till now there is no example of imprisonment and fines for the accused officials in any waterways accident cases,’ National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways general secretary Ashis Kumar Dey told New Age on Tuesday.
He said that three cases were filed over Pinak-6 accident and a probe committee formed by the shipping ministry which found the proof of negligence in duty by Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, the then joint director of Marine Safety and Traffic Management department of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority.
He said that it was found that the launch was given permission to ply in inclement weather and then the ministry asked the authority for taking departmental action against him but no action was taken, he also alleged.
‘After six years Mohammad Rafiqul Islam was promoted to the director position in the same department and he has been made member secretary of the investigation committee formed by shipping ministry for the Morning Bird capsize yesterday,’ he said.
Replying to a question Mohammad Rafiqul Islam told New Age on Tuesday that he was unable to recall the incidents as these happened a long time ago.
‘I would be able to talk about them tomorrow,’ he added.
Ashis Kumar Dey alleged that in the Pinak-6 case the then chief engineer AKM Fakhrul Islam of the Department of Shipping and ship surveyor Mirza Saidur Rahman had also been suspended but later the department withdrew the suspension.
Currently both of them are in jail after being arrested by the Anti-Corruption Commission, he further said.
‘In most cases the verdict of the court went to the favour of the accused as in marine court the state side remains weak while the defence usually employ competent lawyer,’ he alleged.
On February 22, 2015, a launch named MV Mostafa capsized following a clash with an oil-carrying vessel, causing the deaths of 17 people while 20 people went missing, said the national committee sources.
On May 22, 2004, at least 200 people were killed when three ferries — MV Lighting Sun, MV Diganta, and ML Majlishpur — capsized in separate accidents.
On July 8, 2003 at least 110 people were killed and around 200 went missing after MV Nasrin-1, a triple-deck ferry, capsized in the Meghna River.
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