THE indifference of relevant authorities to speedboats running on waterways in breach of all the rules — the mandatory requirement for registration and the permission to ferry not more than 12 passengers — has come to be worrying as it entails a greater risk of accidents. Rash driving by unskilled people has only added to the concern. In the latest of such incidents, at least 26 people died and five became injured when an unregistered speedboat, with 32 people on board, rammed a barge laden with sand anchored in the River Padma on May 3. A study that the Accident Research Institute has carried out based on newspaper reports shows that 36 people died, 52 became injured and 5 went missing in 10 speedboat accidents that took place between 2018 and April 3, 2021 when the latest accident happened. The institute, however, says that 462 died in 326 waterway accidents in 2018–2021 while shipping department figures put the number of waterway accidents in 2006–2017 at 264, which left 1,430 people dead. The failure of the authorities to register speedboats is deplorable and this also makes it difficult to hold to account owners of unlicensed speedboats in cases of accidents.
The shipping department, which registers speedboats to ferry a maximum of 12 passengers, is reported to have registered till date about 340 speedboats although about 200 to 250 more speedboats are reported to be still running illegally on waterways across the country. The minister of state for shipping in September 2020 asked the shipping department to hold a ‘registration week’ aiming to register all speedboats and the number of registered speedboats, which was 302 as of August 2020, increased to 340 in the past few months. Besides, the speedboat that rammed the barge on April 3 was in operation in breach of the ongoing restrictions on public transports, ordered as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19. The Inland Water Transport Authority chief, in such a situation, seeks to say that most speedboats run dodging the surveillance of the River Police. Such a statement also questions the mandate of the River Police as its personnel need to keep a watchful eye on the movement of unlicensed vessels on waterways if they mean to stop such accidents taking place and to improve the waterway regime with an aim to ensure passenger safety. All the authorities responsible for the enforcement of rules regarding the operation of speedboats appear to be negligent or indifferent.
The Inland Water Transport Authority has set out an investigation and the report is due for submission in 15 working days. It is expected that the report should be submitted in time and it should be made public. But, above all, the government is expected to act on the recommendations that the investigation will make. The government’s indifference to the licensing of speedboats — much fewer than a thousand of them are reported to be running — could prove costlier if it does not act in time to ensure passenger safety on waterways.
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