It improves after tragedy, then slackens

munshgonj-3-wbWatch on Vessels
While the salvage operation for capsized launch Pinak-6 continues in the Padma, the authorities consider it high time to do some “monitoring”, a task which usually remains neglected.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the shipping department and law enforcement agencies have beefed up their inspection at Mawa and Kaorakandi terminals to check overloading of launches and speedboats.

On Friday, a mobile court of shipping department fined eight launches for overloading and inadequate safety equipment. One launch is reportedly owned by the family of the shipping minister.

Police were keeping count of passengers getting on vessels.

And yesterday, the authorities suspended the operation of launches and speedboats from midday citing “adverse weather.”

All these measures came after sinking of Pinak-6 on Monday. The doomed launch was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85.
The people working at the terminals, however, are not surprised at all. They see such initiatives after any big accident. But soon everything gets back to the square one.

They don’t expect anything new this time either. Alamgir Hossain, a launch staff, said this monitoring will be stopped within a few days.
Shaheen Miah, manager of Akhter Company, which owns 30 speedboats, said they bought around 100 lifejackets under pressure from the lessee, who was instructed by the shipping minister after the disaster.

“The waves in the river are not abnormal today [yesterday] …. Nobody prevented us when our speedboats operated in weather worse than today’s. Where was the administration then?”

He said, “These tightened inspections are just to please the media and the bosses.”

There are allegations that launch owners bribe BIWTA officials or use their influence to avoid action.

Rejecting the allegation, Abul Bashar, director (ports and traffic) of BIWTA, told The Daily Star that they “try their best” to keep up the monitoring throughout the year. But sometimes, he admitted, they fail for the lack of manpower.

There are only 35 traffic inspectors to monitor overloading and operation timetables at 21 launch ports and around 700 launch terminals.
Citing official documents, he said the launches on this rout has the capacity to ferry only 10-11 thousand people daily against the pressure of about 25 to 30 thousand.

Pankaj Karmakar and Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary

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