They are paid a pittance but do not hesitate to dive in the deep by risking their lives. They sometimes win the battle beneath turgid water, sometimes their efforts go in vain.
Such is the story one gathered from divers looking for the sunken Pinak-6 in the turbulent river Padma.
There are just 20 divers in Bangladesh who are summoned each time an accident occurs.
In times of river tragedies, they work without a stop, forsaking food and rest, but are not paid a ‘decent’ salary, they say.
Masudur Rahman, a diver on the Fire Service boat, Agni Binash, shared with bdnews24.com Correspondent on Thursday his varied experiences and also his reasons for feeling let down.
The Munshiganj district administration has claimed that 110 passengers of the ill-fated Pinak-6, the launch that sank with over 300 people on board at the Louhajang turning point on its way to Mawa on Monday, has been rescued.
Until Thursday, the divers had recovered three bodies from the accident site in Munshiganj. A few more were retrieved from other places.
Masud said he banished the thoughts of his near ones every time he dived into the water.
“I don’t remember my family and my relatives once I am in the water. I keep looking for those for whom people anxiously wait on the banks.”
Masud, who hails from Jamalpur, joined the service about ten years back at a salary of Tk 4,400. His wife and two children, three-year-old ‘Nafid’ and one-year-old ‘Nihad’, live in the village.
“My mother’s face flashes in my mind before I dive. Then, I go down into the deep with Allah’s blessing. I took up this job knowing full well that I might die down there.”
He said, this time, he had so far dived thrice looking for the launch.
“We have to wager our lives to do this work. There is no time for rest. Every other job has work schedules, but we don’t. Yet, there is satisfaction in working for the country and people.”
No wonder, they are able to muster the spirit to break into songs amidst lashing waves and howling winds and a pervasive air of gloom.
Humayun Kabir descended into the muddy waters of the Padma at the instruction of Fire Service Director Abdus Salam.
He was down there for half an hour before rising to the surface by holding on to a rope dropped for him. His fellow workers helped him climb on to a waiting boat
He spoke to bdnews24.com after resting for a while.
“This dive was a particularly risky one. There was big brick stuck in the mud beneath. It virtually leaped with the current the moment I tried to remove it. I would have suffered a head injury had it struck me. Maybe, I would not have risen to the surface again,” he said.
“There is a lot of hazard in this work. But the salary and other facilities don’t match the risks involved,” Kabir said, removing his oxygen mask and getting out of his diving suit.
Md Shahjahan, older than both Masud and Kabir, smiled as he listened to his younger colleagues.
He had the chance to have a bath after three days. “Now, I am feeling fresh,” he said.
Alauddin, a tall man, said they had to work without a break, as there were just 20 divers in the country.
Abdul Khayer, leader of the team of divers, said, “We put our lives at stake and work untiringly to rescue accident victims. It is because of our efforts that the relatives of the dead are able to have the last glimpse of their departed dear ones. That is why they pray for us, and we are respected everywhere.”
Khayer has also been awarded for his courage shown in rescuing passengers of a launch that met with an accident at Aricha in 2005.
“The number of divers in the Fire Service is far too inadequate. But we still have our successes. But the work will certainly be done better if the staff strength is increased,” he told bdnews24.com.
Fire Service Director General Brig Gen Ali Ahmed Khan admitted the number of divers in the country was too few compared to the need.
At least 150 divers were needed, he added, saying the Ministry of Home Affairs had been informed of the situation.
“We are still dependent on traditional methods of searching. The Fire Service does not have its own electric search machines or modern equipment to conduct sonar searches,” he said.
Advanced machinery would help his department to function more effectively, he said.