Over a million people are estimated to leave Dhaka to go home for Eid holidays using the waterways, braving the weather and a rickety old transport system that lacks sufficient safety and security measures.
Like the past years, inland water vessels are being used to carry the majority of holidaymakers who are going home to the southern districts.
The vessels are mostly old and overcrowded, as passengers complained to the Dhaka Tribune. Several steps have been taken to ensure travel safety, but experts claim that these measures are far from sufficient.
Moreover, inclement weather is disrupting ferry services, making an already troublesome journey worse for the passengers.
Sources said due to strong current and erosion in the Padma River, ferries on Daulatdia-Paturia and Shimulia-Kewrakandi routes are facing problems in carrying vehicles. The ferry service on Daulatdia-Paturia route has been halted several times in the last two months due to heavy current.
Small launches that carry passengers on the same routes are also having difficulty crossing the river due to the current. The situation is likely to get worse due to the increasing number of of passengers in the next few days.
Sources on the ground say if the weather does not improve, journey to the south and southwestern districts will become more dangerous than usual.
Meanwhile, launch owners said most inland big vessels have safety equipment such as life jackets, buoys and fire-fighting equipment, as well as GPS, echo sounders and compass for smooth navigation.
But small launches do not have those equipment, which makes plying across Padma risky, especially at night.
Launch owners further said the big vessels will not carry passengers beyond their capacity; the number of trips have already been increased, and launches are taking special trips to the south from Dhaka since Thursday to cater to the increasing number of homeward bound passengers.
Both state-run and privately owned vessels are taking Eid special trips to meet the holiday rush, sources said.
Officials at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) said they had seven vessels to run on special trips for Eid on from Dhaka to Barisal, Chandpur, Jhalakathi, Hularhat and Morrelganj, while 12 vessels have been assigned for trips to Sandwip and Hatia.
At least 130-135 launches will leave Sadarghat terminal every day, and 35 additional ticket counters will cater to the growing number of passengers at the terminal, they added.
’Safety measures in place’
Sources at the BIWTA said several initiatives had been taken to ensure safe and hassle-free journey on the water routes during the Eid rush.
A committee has been formed to monitor the inland water transport services, and a number of mobile teams will be on the ground to prevent launches from carrying passengers on their roofs.
CCTV cameras have been installed at the terminal to aid the monitoring as well.
BIWTC sources said additional river police and coast guard patrol teams will be deployed and additional units of firefighters and medical teams will be stationed at Sadarghat. There will also be teams of divers stationed at different points.
Meanwhile, additional members of police, Rapid Action Battalion and shipping police have been deployed at all river ports, including Sadarghat, said Abdul Quddus Khan, additional secretary at the Ministry of Shipping.
“The additional law enforcement members will serve the passengers and ensure discipline during the heavy rush at the terminal,” he said. “No launches will be allowed to carry extra passengers. Those who are found to do so will be penalised heavily by the mobile courts.”
Moreover, no unfit vessels will be allowed to carry passengers, he added.
As decided previously, cargo vessels will not ply the rivers three days before and after Eid to avoid accidents, Quddus further said.
Mobarak Hossain, public relations officer at Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), said they have been working at the Daulatdia-Paturia route to improve the service and minimise passengers’ hassle.
The authorities have also decided not to let launches smaller than 65 feet to ply the Padma before Eid on the Shimulia-Kewrakandi route, while local administration will not allow speed boats to carry passengers on the river after sundown.