Finds probe into Meghna tragedy
A probe committee on the MV Shariatpur-1 launch tragedy has found that the vessel capsized promptly in the Meghna as it was hugely overloaded with goods and operated by unskilled master and engine operator.
The 31.6-metre long double-decker passenger vessel sank in the river at Gazaria, Munshiganj, early on March 13 after it was hit by an unidentified cargo vessel. At least 147 passengers drowned in the accident.
On that fateful trip from Shariatpur to Dhaka, the vessel was carrying about 240 passengers and around eight tonnes of goods — an estimated 15.26 tonnes beyond its capacity — revealed the probe body in its report.
The seven-member committee headed by Baitul Amin Bhuiyan, joint secretary of the shipping ministry, submitted its report on Tuesday to the ministry.
A copy of the report obtained by The Daily Star, however, makes no mention about overcrowding on the vessel.
The launch was built in 1991 with a capacity to carry 225 passengers at night and 332 during the day and a cargo capacity of 10 tonnes. However, it was unfit to carry any cargo due to some basic flaws in design.
In 2008, the vessel added 17 tonnes of ballast in its hull to keep it stable on the water.
After adding the ballast, the vessel lost its initial cargo capacity. But the owners had been transporting cargo beyond its capacity for the last four years, the report said.
Hit by the cargo vessel that night, the launch tilted when it failed to maintain its balance due to overloading, it added.
A half-metre hole was created at the lower part of the launch, through which water leaked into it, causing the vessel to sink quickly.
Launch owner Lutfor Rahman Chowdhury did not even tell the names of the master and engine operator to the probe committee.
The committee has blamed the owners and masters of both the vessels for the disaster and suggested taking legal action against them.
It has made a 16-point recommendation to make river transport safer.
The recommendations include bringing all cargo vessels under registration, implementing a law to stop plying of sand-laden vessels at night, taking effective measures to check overloading and overcrowding of vessels, regular drive of mobile courts, keeping records of passengers and goods at every launch terminal before the beginning of a journey, installing alarms on every vessel to check overloading, imposing a ban on carrying goods in the non-designated spaces of a vessel, stopping of embarking and disembarking passengers at unapproved terminals and stopping of night trips of launches less than 40-meter long in major rivers.
Two more committees headed by Matiur Rahman, member (finance) of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, and Capt Jashimuddin, chief nautical surveyor at Department of Shipping, are probing the disaster.