Speeding, negligence by cargo vessel crew cost 35 lives
The cargo vessel that collided with the passenger launch ML Sabit Al Hasan and caused it to capsize on the Shitalakkhya River was not even authorized to sail, according to a Shipping Ministry probe report.
The report also found the master and driver of the cargo vessel MV SKL-3 guilty of speeding and negligence in the capsize incident.
On April 4, the passenger launch ML Sabit Al Hasan was hit from behind by the cargo ship MV SKL-3 when the latter was trying to overtake the former near the 3rd Shitalakkhya Bridge (China Bridge) under construction at the Koyla Ghat area in Narayanganj. The capsize led to the death of at least 35 passengers of the launch.
According to the probe report, the cargo vessel was registered but did not have a survey certificate from the Department of Shipping. Ships without survey certificates are not authorized to sail on the river.
First-class master Ohiduzzaman, 50, and driver (in-charge) Majnu Mollah, 38, confessed to steering the cargo vessel recklessly during preliminary interrogation after they were detained on April 8.
Commodore AZM Jalal Uddin, director general of the Department of Shipping, told Dhaka Tribune: “The maximum punishment for such a fatal accident is five years’ imprisonment and a fine of Tk5 lakh. However, colliding with a launch while speeding is a criminal offence, so a criminal case has been filed by the local district administration.”
The probe also found that a pillar of the 3rd Shitalakkhya Bridge was obstructing the movement of water vessels, and the construction of the bridge had narrowed the channel. It recommended a redesign of the bridge to reduce the risk of future accidents.
The report also stressed the need to stop illegal berthing of small launches to make the waterway safer.
Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) Director (safety and traffic) Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, the member secretary of the probe committee, confirmed that the probe report had been submitted but did not disclose details.
Meanwhile, the Shipping Ministry took an initiative to formulate a new Inland Shipping Law in 2015, and a draft of the new law in 2019 suggested increasing the maximum punishment to 10 years’ imprisonment. However, the law is yet to get cabinet approval in the face of resistance from launch owners.
According to the Department of Shipping, 81 people died in 132 water accidents last year.
Commodore AZM Jalal Uddin said a total of 632 cases were filed for various reasons last year, and 412 cases were disposed of.
“We have a good team to deal with important cases,” he said.