The Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, has arrested Hamjalal Sheikh, the owner of the MV Abhijan-10 launch that caught on fire in Jhalakathi, leading to the death of over three dozen people.
The arrest was made in Dhaka’s Keraniganj on Monday morning, said Commander Khandker Al Moin, director of RAB’s Legal and Media Wing.
Hamjalal had been hiding at the home of a relative since a case was filed over the launch fire, the law enforcers said.
In the deadliest launch inferno in Bangladesh’s history, Abhijan-10 caught fire around 3 am Friday near Jhalakathi’s Gabkhan on the Sugandha River. The blaze engulfed the three-storey launch killing at least 38 people, with 80 others hospitalised.
Many have also been reported missing.
Most of the passengers were asleep when the fire erupted. The river ferry floated for some distance after the power was cut off before going up in flames.
Three cases have been filed over the incident thus far. Jahangir Hossain of the Jhalakathi Ponabalia Union Village Police filed a case over ‘unnatural deaths’ at Jhalakathi Sadar Police Station.
Then Nazmul Islam Nasir, the union council chairman from Baliatali in Barguna’s Sadar Upazila, filed a case with the Barguna Chief Judicial Magistrates court on Sunday, accusing 25 suspects. Launch owner Hamjalal Sheikh was among those named in the case.
Finally, the Department of Shipping Chief Inspector Shafiqur Rahman charged the owners, masters and crew members of MV Abhijan-10 in marine court in Dhaka with negligence on Sunday, accusing Hamjalal Sheikh and seven others. The court then issued an arrest warrant in connection with the charges.
Elaborating on the charges, the chief inspector added: “A preliminary investigation found the launch was carrying unnecessary items, including an oily material which set off the devastating fire. There weren’t enough fire extinguishers on board.”
According to the case dossier, the engine room caught fire after crossing Jhalakathi’s Nalchhiti area. Lack of prompt action to douse the fire caused the flames to spread and burn the whole vessel.
The launch did not have sufficient fire extinguishers either. There was diesel in a drum and cylinder stove for cooking outside the engine room, in violation of the rules.
After the fire, Hamjalal Sheikh claimed there were no issues with the engine on his launch and there was sufficient equipment to handle a fire emergency. He did, however, admit that the oil barrels were next to the engine room.
The 52-year-old Hamjalal hails from Munshiganj’s Sadar Upazila, but lives in Dhaka’s Wari. He has been involved in the launch business since the nineties.
He is the owner of the Abhijan-3, Abhijan-5 and Abhijan-10 launches. He also has a family clothing business in Old Dhaka’s Islampur and several stores as well.
In 2004, two of his launches – Abhijan-3 and Reaz-4, were set on fire in Keraniganj’s Telaghat area over a feud.
Hamjalal has served as a director or executive member of the Launch Owners Association at various times. He is currently a member of the Standing Committee formed by the BIWTA, BIWTC and launch owners.