IN YET another waterway accident on Sunday evening at least 19 people were killed when a Munshiganj-bound launch with over 50 passengers capsized near the third Shitalakkhya Bridge at Koylaghat of Syedpur. While it will take time to determine the exact cause of the accident, some survivors who swam ashore said that the launch sank after a cargo vessel had hit the launch and dragged it a few kilometres before the latter sank into the river. The authority concerned has formed a four-member investigation committee led by the director of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority director. The inland water transport authority says that they are trying to trace the cargo vessel, SK-3, that has fled the scene and is allegedly responsible for the accident. Forming probe bodies and assurances from the authority to bring those responsible to book have been the business-as-usual response; meanwhile accidents continue take lives. It is apparent that the government needs to take more drastic steps, if it truly wants to make waterways safe for passengers.
According to a report of the Road Safety Foundation, at least 272 people were killed and 137 injured in 119 waterway accidents in 2020. In June 2020, 33 people were killed when a Dhaka-bound launch carrying around 150 passengers from Munshiganj sank after being hit by another launch near Shyambazar, Dhaka. In most cases, probe bodies were formed. However, it is not known in how many of the cases reports were submitted in due time or submitted at all. It is important that the authorities submit their investigation reports in due time; even more crucial is to act on the recommendations made by committee members. Instead, 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 ship owners to go for design and plan approval after the construction. Making illegal and dangerous modifications like changing the length or breadth or height of the launch without any prior consultation with a qualified naval architect is commonplace. Unskilled master in the waterways is another reason behind the high accident rates in waterways. The inland water transport authority and the Bangladesh Water Development Board should act on the reported irregularities in the sector to prevent accidents.
For the government to make the waterways safe for its passengers, it must attend to the persistent monitoring failure to check the fitness of watercrafts and skills of masters operating them. It must also judiciously finish all accident related investigations, and set legal precedent by bringing negligent owner, masters and others to justice. In Bangladesh, a country of rivers, adequate attention to the water transport sector could definitely take the burden off the road transport sector.