At least 34 people were killed in a horrific collision between two launches on Buriganga River near Farashganj Ghat in Dhaka on Monday.
After watching the CCTV footage of the collision, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said the incident seemed suspicious and premeditated. He also said it was 'not an accident and it was murder.'
In an interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Ali Asif Shawon at the secretariat on Tuesday afternoon, the state minister stressed that no one who is found to be guilty would be spared punishment.
You have said the collision of the two launches on the Buriganga did not seem to be an accident. What action are you going to take?
I have said primarily, after what we have seen in the CCTV footage, it seemed like a kind of murder. It seemed like the collision was intentional. Now, we have formed investigation cells with some experts and if the investigation finds that it was an intentional act then we will take necessary action against the people involved. Those who are convicted will face the law.
Already, River Police have filed a case and the investigation has started. Once the charge sheet is filed, the court will judge the matter and the convicted will be punished.
Sometimes, we have seen the owner of a ship flee when a case is filed against them after such an incident. What is your opinion on the matter?
Every criminal wants to hide after committing a crime, but now the law enforcement agencies and authorities of Bangladesh are much more modern and stronger than before.
I think law enforcement agencies will be able to catch those who are involved in this incident if they try to run away.
After the capsize of MV Pinak in the Padma River in 2014, which cost at least 49 lives and left more than 50 missing, this is the worst waterway disaster in Bangladesh. What initiatives have you taken to minimize such incidents?
There are clear differences between the MV Pinak and Morning Bird capsizes. There was no bad weather or mismanagement crisis during the Morning Bird incident. So, we are waiting for the results of the investigation to find out how this happened on such a bright and sunny day!
We have taken a lot of measures in recent years to ensure zero accident waterways. Waterway transport management has changed; nowadays, it is not so easy to get a waterway transport license and fitness certificates are given after regular inspections.
Previously, we have seen that fitness certificates were sold, but now this is not possible as we are monitoring very strictly. Furthermore, we are going to introduce the vessel traffic system (VTS) soon. I think these changes have and will make waterways safer than before.
The government forms investigation teams after such incidents, but why are the probe reports never made public?
This is not true. Now, we have the Right to Information Act and if somebody applies for some information from a probe report properly, they can get it. It is not our job to tell everybody about the findings of probe reports. The ministry will take proper action as per the probe report. That is our job.
Whatever the findings, action will be taken accordingly. After watching the CCTV footage, I have suspicions that this was an intentional incident. My suspicions may be wrong or right, and I am waiting for the report for answers.
If some influential person or group is found guilty in the probe report, what will you do?
Nobody is more influential than the government. The government is working in force here and we are very sincerely looking into the matter. Whoever they are, the convicted will not be spared.
What is your opinion of Suman Bepari, the man rescued alive from the capsized launch after 13 hours?
When I first heard about this, I thought it was a miracle. However, after some conversation with the experts, I came to know that such a miraculous thing can happen sometimes.
The experts said air pockets may be created in drowning water vessels and people can survive with the oxygen in that air pocket. There are records of people surviving underwater for even longer than Suman Bepari, so it is not impossible.
The Buriganga Bridge (Bangladesh-China Friendship Bridge-1), popularly known as Postogola Bridge, was severely damaged when rescue ship Prottoy tried to pass underneath on its way to salvage a sunken ship at Farashganj ghat. What is your opinion regarding this incident?
The master who operated Prottoy cannot avoid the responsibility of this mishap. We are taking action on the matter. They have to clarify why the ship damaged the bridge, as this is not acceptable. It is not good to cause another accident while going for a rescue operation.
It has been alleged that probe report recommendations are sometimes ignored. Is this true?
No, we are implementing the recommendations step by step. It is not something you can do overnight. We have improved vessel designs, fitness, and maintenance systems, as per recommendations already. We are also planning for some new initiatives.
Actually, there are a lot of unauthorized transport vehicles on waterways and roads. Sometimes, we have to overlook some things. I may enforce zero tolerance for unauthorized waterway transport, but people do not have the mindset to take these changes affirmatively. Without people’s awareness, hard action can create additional problems.
After taking charge as the state minister for shipping, I had taken an initiative to stop small boats on the Buriganga that transport people from Keraniganj to Sadarghat. But local people and boatmen didn’t take that initiative positively and I had to rethink the issue. Now I am making a dedicated ferry ghat for the boatmen of Keraniganj.
Some things are like this. We have to adjust some decisions with common folk in mind.