Rundown highways have increased safety risk for water transport passengers too, as the number of people using riverine routes for Eid travel may shoot up this year, increasing the chance of overloading of vessels.Around 10 to 12 lakh people leave Dhaka in the seven days before Eid by launches through Sadarghat, the biggest launch terminal sending vessels out to over 50 destinations in the southern parts of the country every year.
This year the number is likely to shoot up. With the rivers full to the brim with monsoon water, the size of crowds at the terminal for launch tickets has increased as buses are unable to operate at some places and taking too long to reach destinations due to rundown condition of roads.Sadarghat launch terminal is now full of newly painted vessels waiting to overload as usual up to double or triple their capacities to transport homebound passengers. Some of those are not even fit at all, said some launch repair workers who did not want to be identified.
Authorities of at least 50 faulty vessels received notices for repair in the last one month, said Shadat Hossain, a vessel surveyor of the Department of Shipping, claiming of increased vigilance ahead of Eid.”Engines and hulls of many were faulty. I already issued notices to those for stopping operations until made fit,” Shadat said.
Shipping department sources said MV Koko-2, Tipu-1, MV Panama, MV Mitali-2, Shuvoraj-2, Rajhangsha, Red Sun-2, Suresshor-2, MV New Sun, Dipraj-2 and MV Saikat-9 are among the faulty vessels which were served notices.
In reality, many of the faulty vessels had hurried patch-up jobs and new coats of paint instead of thorough repair before they queued at the passenger terminal for trips, according to the repair workers.
Launch owners operate unfit launches in collusion with officials of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), and the shipping department (DOS) abusing the Inland Shipping Ordinance (ISO)-1976, said a terminal source.
The ordinance allows a ship surveyor to issue a “token approval for operation” for 45 days to a launch without an inspection, during which time the vessel has to be repaired.
“Availing the opportunity, some faulty vessels keep on operating for years without repair and get into accidents,” said a source.
MV Bipasha that sank in Brahmanbaria on April 21, ML Nurussunnah that sank on December 3 last year in Kishoreganj, and MV Prince which sank in Patuakhali on April 15 in 2005 all operated using token approvals over and over again.
In previous years, many unfit and unregistered vessels operated ahead of Eid, many causing serious accidents.
A report of Safe Waterway Implementation Movement, a non-government organisation, published last year says capsizal of such overloaded faulty vessels killed over 6,000 passengers in 535 accidents in the last two decades.
BIWTA officials said a vessel can carry 800 to 1,500 passengers on an average. During Eid, each vessel carries two and half to three times of the capacity.
Talking about monitoring, shipping department’s Shadat Hossain expressed his helplessness.
“People don’t care whether the vessels are overloaded or not. We can fine a launch authority, but can’t force the passengers to get off a launch, because that might create a confrontational situation,” he said.
Another shipping department source said if they suspend a vessel’s operation, the owner goes to BIWTA and gets trip schedule nonetheless through “managing” some officials, moor the faulty vessel at the terminal and load passengers. “Once passengers are loaded on a vessel, we can’t do much in fear of a clash,” he said.
Forty to 50 vessels operate everyday from Dhaka to different destinations, the number goes up to 110 to 120 during the last three days before Eid, said a BIWTA official.
Normally, a launch plies once in every three or four days due to a rotation system. But during Eid periods, the launches ply non-stop increasing the number of trips, he added.
Over 20,000 unregistered passenger and cargo vessels ply different routes across the country, a DOS source said.
Over 6,500 are registered with the department, DOS Chief Engineer AKM Fakhrul Islam said.
“We will deploy additional police force and coast guard members ahead of Eid to check plying of unfit vessels and to stop overloading,” said Commodore Jobair Ahmad, DOS director general.