Probe bodies formed to ascertain how the ferry had been operating without any fitness certificate
An age-old RoRo ferry capsized in Paturia of Manikganj on Wednesday with 14 goods-laden trucks, motorbikes and passengers.
The authorities formed two separate probe committees – a seven-man committee by Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) and a four-man committee by the Manikganj district administration – to ascertain the reasons behind the accident, which has caused huge financial losses.
Ferry Master Shariful Islam Liton said that the ferry named Amanat Shah had a leak that needed to be fixed. However, without doing so, the authorities operated the ferry on Wednesday, leading to the capsize.
The 42-year-old vessel was faulty and had undergone heavy servicing just four months back, he said.
The ferry was on its way to Aricha from Rajbari’s Daulatdia ghat when it sank at Paturia ferry terminal while unloading.
When the ferry started its journey with 17 heavy vehicles and at least 16 motorcycles, water started seeping into the vessel through the hole. Shafiqul said it was too late by the time he realized what was happening.
Following the accident, two diving units of the local fire service started rescue operations immediately while two more diving units from Dhaka joined them later, according to Fire Service and Civil Defence Deputy Assistant Director Md Shariful Islam.
No casualties were reported till the writing of this report as most of the passengers had managed to swim ashore.
The salvage operation was suspended for the night at 8:30pm, Joint Secretary of the Shipping Ministry Md Delwar Hossain confirmed.
Questions over salvage operations
Following the accident, the salvage vessel Hamza joined the rescue efforts in the afternoon.
However, officials are unsure whether the 60-ton-capacity salvage vessel will be able to bring up the nearly 1,000 ton capsized ferry.
Meanwhile, another rescue vessel named Prottoy, which has a capacity of 250 tons, was on its way to join the salvage operations as this report was being filed at 10pm.
SM Sanowar Hossain, commander of the salvage vessel Hamza, said a truck was recovered at around 1pm.
He said the rescuers suspected that the deck of the ferry had cracked from the hole and started to sink.
Lack of fitness?
The ferry had been operating without any fitness certificate, BIWTC AGM (Marin) Abdus Sattar told Dhaka Tribune.
However, he said the ferry authorities had recently submitted an application for a survey certificate.
At least 17-18 ferries operate on the same route every day. Of them, many lack fitness certificates and are as old as the Amanat Shah.
Mismanagement at repair shop
Meanwhile, there are allegations of mismanagement against the ferry repair factory at Modhumoti.
According to sources, the factory’s AGM Engr Abdul Mannan used to delay the repair of the faulty ferries on various excuses.
Denying the allegations, Abdul Mannan said: "Repairs are started as soon as the ferry arrives for repairs."
Trucks floating in Padma
While visiting the scene, this correspondent found that five covered vans were floating in the river using the dredger pipes of ferry repair factory Modhumoti.
One of the truck drivers, Md Selim Hossain, said he saw the ferry capsizing as his truck was just getting down from the vessel and sank in the river.
Another driver Amir Hossain said he was sleeping when the ferry sank. He woke up when water started entering his vehicle. He then managed to return to shore with the help of others.
Many of the truck drivers and other passengers said they had lost their belongings, including mobile phones and other valuables, in the water.
How did it happen?
One of the passengers on the ship, Razzak, said that water started entering from a hole on the right side of the ferry in mid-river after the journey commenced from Daulatdia ferry terminal
At the time, the ferry master increased the speed and reached Paturia. As soon as the ferry reached the terminal, two trucks managed to get down. The vessel started to turn over while the third truck was in the midst of unloading.
Thousands of people were seen gathering along the shore as members of the Manikganj district administration, law enforcement forces, Navy and Coast Guard were taking part in the rescue operation along with the fire service.
Former shipping minister Shajahan Khan, BIWTC Chairman Syed Tajul Islam, Director (Commerce) Ashiquzzaman, Manikganj Deputy Commissioner Abdul Latif, Superintendent of Police (SP) Md Golam Azad Khan, Faridpur Zone Naval Police SP Jasim Uddin, President of BIWTC Workers Union and Vice President of National Labor League Mohsin Bhuiyan visited the scene following the accident.