Of around 400 speedboats that regularly operate on these two routes, not a single one is registered and none of the speedboat operators have licences
The large number of speedboats on the Shimulia-Kathalbari and Shimulia-Majhikandi routes of the Padma River in Munshiganj are a major concern for commuters.
Of around 400 speedboats that regularly operate on these two routes, not a single one is registered and none of the speedboat operators have licences.
Such irregularities ultimately result in the poor fitness of speedboats, causing them to frequently breakdown in the middle of the river, and inefficient operators who often run into ferries and other boats.
There have been multiple reports of accidents on these two routes. This year alone, there have been four incidents which claimed the lives of four people and injured 46 others on the Padma River.
According to various news reports published between 2013 and 2019, at least nine accidents were recorded in which 10 people died, 77 were injured, and several others went missing.
For people from the southern part of the country, these routes are convenient for their commute. However, the frequent accidents in recent times are putting them at great unease.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has somewhat failed to swiftly enforce strict laws in order to regulate the safe movement of speedboats.
BIWTA Chairman Commodore M Mahbub-ul Islam said: “Tentatively, speedboats were allowed to run without registration. But now as it has become essential, these boats will soon be registered in our directory and in this regard, a new law has been passed recently. The drivers will be given licences after they receive training.”
Locals complain that speedboat operators are unlicenced, unqualified, underage, and often lose control of their boats, causing them to crash or capsize.
Even though there are restrictions set by BIWTA and local administration against operating after sundown, speedboats continue to defy orders, duping river police and dock authorities. The speedboats without headlights often collide with ferries, pipes of dredgers, and other boats.
Another reason for recurring accidents is that the speedboat operators take on too many passengers. There are not ever enough lifejackets onboard and passengers are not keen to wear one either, this correspondent found.
About the aforementioned allegations and issues, Louhajang Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Md Kabirul Islam Khan said: “The speedboats are not registered but we are taking steps to get them registered. Boats are not allowed to operate at night but they still do so. When we get tipoffs, we conduct drives and take legal measures against the culprits.”
There have also been allegations about speedboat operators overcharging passengers, even though the BIWTA has set the fare at Tk120. However, passengers are often charged extra, as much as Tk200, during peak seasons such as Eid.
However, the UNO said: “We sometimes receive complaints about charging of extra fare but when we conduct drives we see that the fares are charged according to the set rate,” and said the fare was in fact Tk150.
Regarding the charging of extra fares, the BIWTA chairman said the fare was set at Tk120, and was unaware as to why the UNO would presume it was Tk150.