The dangerous practice of running unfit water vessels has cost Bangladesh many lives along with the latest incident on Monday where an unfit trawler capsized killing 50 people on the Buriganga River.
From 1996 to 2015 a total of 6,408 people died in 653 launch accidents, according the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, a private non government organisation.
These unregistered trawlers and launches usually make short distance trips across the rivers, but during the Eid-ul-Fitr rush, the vessel owners trying to make a profit will send these unfit vessels out onto long distance trips and this is when most accidents happen.
Some passengers alleged the practice of repairing unfit launches have already began at the Keraniganj dockyard ahead of Eid.
Department of Shipping (DoS) Chief Engineer AKM Fakhrul Islam told the Dhaka Tribune “There is about 30,000 unregistered engine-driven vessels plying the waterways but only one-third of them are registered. We can not control these unfit vessels because of a lack of staff in the department.”
The DoS has just four surveyors and five inspector’s station to monitor the whole of Bangladesh in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Khulna and Barisal.
The Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan however said they are trying to increase the number of staff: “We are working towards hiring more people in the department soon. We are in the process of hiring 22 surveyors, 54 inspectors, 10 examiners and 6 naval architects.”
According to DoS officials, only 10,593 vessels have been registered including passenger and cargo vessels, ferry, oil tankers, tug boat, dumb, barge, sand carrier and dredgers.
In 2016, only 6,217 water vessels have taken fitness certificate from Shipping department.
However, during a recent inter-ministerial meeting on Eid preparation held at BIWTA it was decided that the government would not allow any unfit vessels to leave any terminals.
Even though the government does monitor Sadarghat terminal vigilantly, the rest of the country however gets very little attention from the government due to a lack of staff.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune the Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said: “The reported number of capsized vessels has
decreased because of the government’s vigilance. There has not be a single capsized vessel in 2016 because of our awareness programs.”
However on September 22, 2016 a launch capsized in Barisal killing 24 people.
The minister also said: “It used to be very easy to register a vessel before. But now the owners need to submit their blueprints and designs before being approved. This helps eliminates the approval for faulty designs.
Around 1,205 people died in 64 launch and trawler accident in 2003 the highest death toll on record.
In 2015, 57 people died in 13 different accidents. In 2014, 107 died in 18 water vessel accidents accidents.
In 2013, 13 accidents killed 161. That same year 27 people died when two trawlers capsized on Panguchhi River in Bagerhat and on the Meghna River in Narayanganj.