IN BANGLADESH, waterways are considered among the deadliest in the world. The recent deaths in a tragic accident in the River Buriganga are suggestive of this reality. On June 29, Morning Bird, which was coming to Dhaka from Munshiganj, capsized in the river after it was hit by another launch Moyur-2 near Sadarghat launch terminal which left at least 34 passengers dead. According to a report of the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, and the Green Club of Bangladesh, more than 153 people were killed and 84 other injured in 106 waterways accidents in the last six months. In addition, 22 people remained missing in those accidents during the same period. The number of such accidents, as the report suggests, has increased compared to that in the same period last year, when 71 people were killed in 76 accidents. Yet passengers’ safety in waterways has not been a priority concern for the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and the shipping ministry. The fact that none of the accused named in the case in relations to the Morning Bird capsize are arrested, a week after the accident, indicates the insincerity of the authority in making the water transport safe.
The Sadarghat river police have filed a case against the owner and five other employees of Mayur-2, the launch that slammed Morning Bird and the court has ordered to submit the police investigation report by August 17. Meanwhile, two probe committees were formed to investigate the accident that has submitted its report on Monday. In the context of Bangladesh, it is important that the authorities concerned submit their investigation reports in due time and make them public, but it is even more crucial is to act on the recommendations made by such committees. After each accident, in a rather business-as-usual approach, probe committees are formed and recommendations are made, but they are rarely acted upon. Old and unfit watercrafts are allowed to carry passengers creating scope for recurring accidents. Ideally, the Department of Shipping is responsible for inland water safety and the approval of designs and plans of inland ships. In reality, there is a tendency among owners to go for design approval after the construction. Making illegal and dangerous modifications like changing the length, breadth or height of the launch without prior consultation with qualified naval architects is not uncommon. Unskilled masters in the waterways are also one of the reasons behind the high accident rate in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, a country of rivers, adequate attention to the water transport sector could definitely take the burden off the road transport sector. For the government to make the waterways safe for its passengers, it must attend to the persistent failure of the monitoring system in place to check the fitness of watercrafts and skills of masters operating them. In addition, negligent owners and officials who compromise passengers’ safety for profits must be brought to justice. Irregularities and corruption risking passengers safety can no longer go unabated.
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