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Dhaka Tribune

Unskilled masters behind fatal river accidents

'Monday’s incident is completely a human failure due to the amateurish navigation by the drivers'

Update : 07 Dec 2023, 11:30 PM

Despite license being mandatory to operate inland water transports, only one-third of the deck masters and engine drivers have a license, thus putting the water transport services of the country at risk.

The unlicensed masters and engine drivers do not even have any certificate of training.

On Monday a deadly collision between two launches took place in Buriganga river that claimed 34 lives. 

Negligence of the drivers was pointed out as the primary reason behind the accident, which also revealed that the drivers were not only unskilled but also unlicensed.

Officials concerned said the accident could have been avoided if the drivers or masters of the two launches had been cautious. 

“Monday’s incident is completely a human failure due to the amateurish navigation by the drivers,” said Md Manjurul Kabir, chief engineer and ship surveyor at the Department of Shipping.   

Besides, inadequate training facilities and backdated training curriculum and process also boost up the ratio of unskilled masters. 

Vessel owners cannot avoid the blame in view of their reluctance in allowing workers to leave work and get training.

Moreover, those who are trained and skilled, take a job in sea vessels and go abroad for a higher salary.

Since 1991, a total of 570 vessels have sunk in rivers across Bangladesh. Of them, 236 were passenger vessels and 146 were cargo vessels. 

Altogether 3,654 people lost their lives in accidents related to inland water vessels across the country in the last 29 years, according to a government report. 

A study of the Accident Research Institute (ARI) under Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) shows that between 2005 and 2017, a total of 264 inland waterway accidents took place, with 1,430 people getting killed, 135 more injured, and 265 missing. 

Among the accidents, 60% were caused by collisions between water transports. 

ARI Lecturer Md Imran Uddin said: “Fatal waterway accidents happened due to overloading, storm, and hostile weather until 2004 which later changed to collision since 2005.”

“Most of the collision-related accidents happened due to lack of proper training of masters, drivers of the inland water vehicles,” he added. 

According to the Department of Shipping (DoS), there are 11,821 registered vessels in the country. However, the real number is doubled when illegal inland water vessels are taken into consideration.

When operating the vessels, it is required to have an assistant master (class 2 and class 3), a master, and engine driver in each vessel which means around 75,000 people are involved with driving the water vessels.

But DoS data shows that there are only 15,338 masters and assistant masters with licenses and 11,339 licence holding engine drivers, which accounts for only one-third of the total workers. 

Interestingly, only eight inspectors and six surveyors in inland waters are dealing with the matter which is creating a huge monitoring gap.

Md Manjurul Kabir, chief engineer and ship surveyor of the DoS, said: “It is true that we have an inadequate number of trained masters and drivers.”

“We take two types of examinations – one is for foundation training and another is for qualification training. But only 30% of the examinees can pass as most water transport workers barely passed eighth-grade, which is a big limitation,” he told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday.    

According to DoS, foundation training is compulsory for everyone before getting a job in the water vessels. Qualification course is necessary for the workers who want to upgrade their licences. 

The masters or drivers of a vessel should be allowed to participate in the qualification training course. But in many cases, the owners do not allow them to attend the training.  

BIWTA provides a one-month preparatory certificate course for the interested people at its 3 deck and engine personnel training centres (DEPTC) located in Narayanganj, Madaripur, and Barishal. DoS usually takes an examination after the training. 

The DEPTC usually trains class-1 master, class-2 master, and class-3 master and engine drivers.

“There are some technical issues which sometimes seem hard for the workers. But at the same time we need to update the curriculum as it is more than 20-years old,” said Manjurul Kabir.

“Along with the technical training, physical and situation tackling training manual should be included in the curriculum to build the capacity in terms of safety and accident preventions issues,” said Md. Imran Uddin.

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