Bangladesh Braces For Another Season Of Catastrophic River Mishaps
- From: nkdatta2468@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: 18 May 2007 17:27:05 -0700
Bangladesh Braces For Another Season Of Catastrophic River
Mishaps ..... .....
Shipping disasters timeline
3 February: About 1,000 people - many of them pilgrims returning from
Mecca - die as the al-Salam Boccaccio '98 ferry, travelling from Saudi
Arabia to Egypt, goes down in the Red Sea.
16-21 May: Three ferries sink in Bangladesh's rivers within one week,
killing at least 148 people.
19 February: At least 116 people die after a ferry, the MV Maharaj,
goes down in the Buriganga river near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.
23 May: The MV Lighting Sun ferry sinks in Meghna river, south of
Dhaka, killing at least 61 people with some 100 others reported
8 July: Bangladesh's MV Nasrin-1 ferry sinks in the monsoon-swollen
Meghna river, killing up to 400 people in what is believed to be the
country's biggest shipping disaster.
26 September: Senegal's state-run overcrowded ferry, the Joola, sinks
off the coast of Gambia, killing more than 1,800 people.
22 April: More than 100 people die in two separate ferry disasters
near Dhaka, Bangladesh.
3 May: At least 450 people drown when a Bangladeshi ferry, the MV
Salahuddin-2, sinks in a storm in the Meghna river.
19 October: Nearly 400 people die when an overcrowded ferry with
mostly Indonesian asylum seekers sinks off the Indonesian island of
29 June: Indonesian ferry the Cahay Bahari goes down near the island
of Sulawesi, killing more than 500 refugees.
Daily Star, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Another round of launch disasters looms large
Despite a number of catastrophic river mishaps in the recent years,
faulty vessels continue plying the river routes, threatening the
country with yet another round of disasters in the coming monsoon.
The owners of some vessels, which were declared unfit, are plying them
after changing their colours and names.
But Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) officials
argue they do not have enough manpower to inspect all the vessels.
There are only nine inspectors for nearly 8,000 passenger vessels
plying the inland river routes.
The absence of an early warning system is a major cause of accidents.
"The problem is, we can't communicate with the vessels or warn them
once they leave the launch terminals. So they find themselves suddenly
in rough weather, quite ill-prepared to face the hazards," says an
official stationed at Sadarghat in the capital.
Over 100 launch disasters have taken place since the present shipping
minister came to office. But, he has done nothing that makes a real
difference in the accident scenario except distributing black goats
among the accident victims.
The ministry now owns two salvage vessels, Rustam and Hamza, but they
are not capable to work withstanding strong river current during the
monsoon. Last year, the launch MV Raipura sunk near Aricha with
hundreds of passengers on board. But the authorities had to wrap up
the rescue and salvage operations due to the severe current in the
river, with 120 passengers still missing.
To correct the situation, the ministry to date has spent several years
to devise a plan to procure two modern salvage ships. However, "It's
in the process. Soon we are going to buy those salvage ships," assures
a high official of the ministry.
CRIME AND NO PUNISHMENT
Abdul Zabbar Akhand, an employee of Dhaka University, received a Tk
20,000 compensation for his wife's death in a 2004 launch accident.
His wife, Achhia Khatun, was one of some 100 passengers killed in a
stormy night in the Jamuna as their launch capsized near Chandpur. She
was on her way back to the capital from Madaripur.
Abdul Zabbar should consider himself lucky for getting the lump sum
compensation. Most of the families of Achhia's fellow victims
reportedly received nothing.
In some cases, the families do not even get the bodies of the river
mishap victims to provide them a decent burial.
The BIWTA claims only 385 launch accidents have taken place in the 30
years since 1976, killing 3,597 people and injuring 396 others, while
over 252 people remain missing.
But, the BIWTA figures are merely the tip of an iceberg. Because, the
Inland Shipping Ordinance of 1976 empowered only the vessel crew to
file a case about an accident or report it to the police, and, in most
cases, the crew would rather flee the scene as soon as possible after
a mishap. So, many accidents and casualties have never entered the
It was only last year that the ordinance was amended, making way for
anyone reporting a river accident to the police.
"When an accident happen, we estimate the number of passengers on
board based on the vessel's official capacity. But, in most cases, the
actual number of people on board is much more than that, sometimes
even twice or thrice the capacity," a senior official at the shipping
ministry tells The Daily Star.
"So, the bodies that float away after an accident are never recorded,"
he says requesting anonymity.
According to shipping ministry officials, design faults of vessels,
poor signalling system, and over-loading are the main culprits.
Typically, a river transport operator construct a vessel at will and
then manages the approval of its design from the shipping department,
one of them reveals. "That's why so many passenger launches capsize,
and so often. Sometimes, you may find some vessels have fitness
licences, but if you dig into the matter you would find the officials
did not observe proper procedure in issuing the certificates," he
But, it is very rare that any of the people responsible, including
masters or pilots and owners of the vessels, is tried or penalised for
causing the deaths and injuries of hundreds of innocent passengers.
"As far as I know, nobody get punished. After filing a case against
the launch owner or master concerned, you have to produce witnesses
before the court. In most cases, the witnesses do not appear in the
court, being intimidated or bribed by the wealthy defendants," says a
magistrate who presided over the country's lone marine court.
Hundreds of cases including some lodged as far back as 1988 are
pending here, says an official of the court.
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