Victims of vessel capsizes and non-compliance of marine laws have been waiting for justice for long as more than 2,000 cases have been pending with the country’s lone marine court for years.
The marine court sent a statement to the Dhaka Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court in March 2020 stating that 1,517 cases, including over 18 major capsizes, were pending with the court.
Besides, the marine court throughout 2020 registered nearly 500 cases, 30 of which were related to launch accidents across the country, according to a court official.
Among the 30 launch accidents, the Morning Bird vessel capsized with 34 passengers drowning in the Buriganga River on July 29, 2020.
Marine court lawyers, its public prosecutor and officials said that the capsize cases had remained pending for long as either the High Court stayed the proceedings because of dual prosecutions or the police were late in notifying summons to witnesses to appear before the court to testify against accused people who were influential.
According to marine court defence lawyer Jahangir Hossain, major capsize cases stayed by the High Court include those over the capsize of Pinak-6 and MV Miraj in 2014 and of MV Sarosh in 2013.
He said that the case over the 2012 MV Shariatpur-1 vessel capsize in which 134 passengers died in the Padma in Madaripur has been pending for eight years as at least three judges were transferred and a new judge, Joynab Begum, preferred to hold fresh hearing of witnesses.
Marine court public prosecutor Begum Parvin Sultana told New Age that at least eight witnesses, including one passenger who saw the capsize of the Shariatpur-1 launch hit by a sand-laden cargo vessel, were heard long ago but the judge deferred the judgement saying that she needed to hear more witnesses in the case.
Defence lawyer Jahangir, however, said that the eye-witness in his deposition could not identify the cargo vessel, although the Department of the Shipping’s probe charged all the 13 employees of the City Group’s cargo vessel named MV City One that hit Shariatpur-1.
Prosecutor Parvin went on that the police were asked to produce the witnesses but they were not doing so leading to the delay in the trial.
Two of the 13 accused in the case have already died and the launch owner, Lutfor Rahman, the lone accused from the side of the launch authority, has become unfit to appear before the court as he is now a very old man above 70, she further said.
She said that Lutfor was charged in the case as his launch had no master or master’s assistant on the wheel during the accident.
Though a home ministry circular, lawyer Jahangir said, has asked the police not to harass the accused people by investigating capsize cases, they continue to investigate such cases providing the accused with the opportunity to challenge the marine court proceedings in the High Court.
He said that such dual prosecutions were also looming over the death of 34 people who drowned as a cargo vessel hit Munshiganj-bound launch ML Rabit Al Hasan causing the launch to capsize in the River Sitalakhya in Narayanganj on April 4 this year.
‘One of the major reasons for long pendency of vessel capsize cases is that accused persons move the High Court challenging their dual prosecutions — one by the Department of Shipping under the Bangladesh Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 and the other by the police under the Penal Code — for each accident,’ DoS Chief Inspector Shafiqur Rahman told New Age.
PP Parvin said that the Pinak-6 case was stayed until the submission of the investigation report by the Munshiganj police station in a second case pending with the Munshiganj Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court.
Although the police station has already submitted its investigation report to the chief judicial magistrate court the Pinak case is pending with the High Court, she said.
According to her, the Pinak case trial was stayed by the High Court in 2014 on the grounds that two cases — one with the Munshiganj police station and the other with the Marine Court — were filed against the Pinak owner over the same capsize.
On July 30, 2020 the Buriganga River police’s sub-inspector Shamsul Islam filed a case against seven people, including the owner, master, supervisor and manager of the Mayur-2 launch for negligence leading to the death of 34 passengers of the Morning Bird launch as the former hit the latter near Farashganj Ghat in Dhaka.
Later another case was filed by the Department of Shipping against the owners of both launches and their masters and supervisors for the non-compliance of marine laws that led to the death of the 34 people.
Buriganga River police station sub-inspector Shahidul Alam, who investigated the 2018 case, on February 9 submitted a charge sheet against 11 people in the chief judicial magistrate court which is yet to hold hearing on the charge sheet, said assistant public prosecutor Anowarul Kabir Babul.
Shahidul said that they had filed the case as it was an obligatory legal duty for them to record a criminal case against the authority of the launch in question for committing a crime.
Parvin said that marine court judge Joynab on March 16 deferred until April 12 the hearing on framing charges against the authorities of the Mayur-2 and Morning Bird launches over the death of 34 people.
The owners of both the launches are on bail granted by both the courts, she added.
The accused masters and others are still detained, she said, adding, ‘But the chief judicial magistrate’s court granted bail to all the 11 accused from the Morning Bird launch in the police case.’
‘The sooner we can punish the offender, the better it is to prevent launch capsizes,’ she said.
On January 5, 2020 the marine court of judge Joynab jailed a master for two years and an assistant for four years finding them responsible for the capsize of the Modinar Alo launch in Sitalakhya in 2011 after being hit by the OT Narayanganj launch.
The court, however, ordered the owner of the OT Narayanganj launch to pay Tk 4 lakh as compensation to the families of the 13 deceased in the 2011 accident and fined him Tk one lakh for causing the accident.
According to the Department of Shipping, at least 4,730 people were killed, 511 injured and 477 went missing in 625 waterway accidents between 1975 and 2017.
The report was compiled by the maritime accident statistics department under the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
The department of statistics also showed that two people were killed, three injured and five went missing in 21 waterway accidents in 2018 while three were killed, 33 injured and 20 went missing in 26 accidents in 2019.
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