Risky Return To Dhaka
Thousands of holidaymakers are returning to Dhaka through Mawa-Kawrakandi route on the Padma river risking their lives due to overloading and insufficient safety measures on water transports.
With passengers’ rush to Dhaka getting momentum, launch operators are overloading their vessels ignoring safety.
However, the government officials concerned are repeatedly claiming to have taken necessary steps to check such overloading.
Apart from launches, speedboat operators on this route are also carrying passengers without wearing lifejackets violating government rules.
On August 4, at least 48 people died and 62 went missing as Pinak-6 launch coming from Kawrakandi of Madaripur sank in the Padma at Mawa in Munshiganj.
The accident occurred just a couple of days after Eid-ul-Fitr when there was a huge rush of holidaymakers returning to Dhaka.
A government probe body later found that overloading was the main reason behind the disaster. The vessel was carrying more than 200 passengers against its capacity of 85.
During a visit to the Mawa Launch Terminal yesterday, it was seen that almost all the launches were plying jam-packed with passengers and were wobbling due to strong current and waves.
During several counts of passengers getting down from launches, it was found that most of the vessels were carrying around double of their capacity.
MS Joni Express from Kawrakandi anchored at Mawa terminal around 1:30pm and was carrying around 200 passengers, though its capacity was 109.
After 10 minutes, ML Borhan Kabir anchored at the terminal with around 190 passengers against its capacity of 80. ML Morichpotty came to the terminal around 2:00pm with more than 250 passengers, against its capacity of 142.
Talking to The Daily Star, Wahid Miah, owner of Joni Express, claimed his launch could carry more passengers, but he was forced to set sail by government officials and law enforcers.
“If the weather is good, my launch does not face any problem in carrying more than 200 passengers. If we carry passengers in accordance with the government rules, we will incur heavy loss,” he claimed.
Speaking anonymously, an official of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) told The Daily Star it was impossible to arrange transport for holidaymakers during Eid holiday. If vessels carried passengers as per their capacity, they would need many more launches as the number of passengers rose by multiple times, he added.
However, BIWTA Chairman Samsuddoha Khondaker denied overloading of launches and claimed to have taken all necessary steps to ensure passengers’ safety.
“We have formed monitoring committees comprising representatives from BIWTA, district administration and law enforcers aiming to check overloading. Stern action will be taken if anyone violated the rule,” he said.
After the Pinak-6 accident, the BIWTA moved to strictly enforce the rule that made mandatory for speedboat operators to use lifejackets for each passenger.
At that time, most of the speedboat operators hectically bought lifejackets overnight and used those for next few days. But during yesterday’s visit, most of such vessels were seen carrying 18 to 19 passengers each with only one or two wearing lifejacket.
“We have an arrangement of providing lifejackets to around 50 percent passengers. But most of them do not want to wear it,” said Shaheen Ahmed, manager of a speedboat operating company that has around 25 speedboats.
“The administration was strict over wearing lifejackets at that time [after Pinak-6 accident]. After a few days everyone forgot it. Nobody bothers about the law anymore,” he added.
When his attention was drawn to this fact, the BIWTA boss said, “We have made it mandatory. We are trying to enforce the rule. Action will be taken if anyone violated it.”
Around 25,000 passengers travel on Mawa-Kawrakandi route during Eid rush every day. Currently, around 76 to 77 launches plying on this route, say sources in BIWTA.