Readers’ Forum

24 July 2020

River Traffic Needs To Control Immediately
Maritime accidents are not infrequent in Bangladesh. In another tragic mishap on June 29 as many as 33 people aboard, including three children, drowned after the passenger boat collided with a ferry near Shyam Bazar and capsized in the Buriganga river on the southern tip of Dhaka city. The overturned motor launch, the Morning Bird, which was coming to Sadarghat river port from Munshiganj, capsized in the river after it was hit by another vessel named Moyur-2.  The vessel was reportedly carrying over 100 passengers. An official said the ship had sunk because of 'carelessness' and was not overloaded - as is usual in most of the motor launch and passenger ship disasters.
 BIWTA has seized Moyur-2; its master Abu Bashar Molla has been sent on a 3-day remand by a Dhaka Court.  State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said that the incident seemed to be carried out in a planned way.
Inevitability of death is the inexorable law of Nature, but avoidable death, such as in river vessel accident, is not acceptable because it occurs owing to human error, negligence by the regulatory body and other reasons for which blame will have to be borne singularly by the BIWTA whose duty is to ensure safety.
Former Indian Prime Minister Shree Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned in 1956 as Central Railway Minister accepting moral and constitutional responsibility for a railway accident in Tamil Nadu that resulted in 144 deaths. There are two examples in Bangladesh: in the wake of fertilizer distribution problem the then BNP Industry Minister Zahiruddin Khan resigned in 1995 though his ministry was not responsible for it; and Khaleda Zia dismissed her Energy Minister Mosharraf Hossain to resign in 2004 after his ministry received an expensive car.
South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Hong-won resigned in April 2014 over the government's handling of a ferry sinking that resulted in widespread shame, fury and finger-pointing. And in one of the worst maritime accidents in Bangladesh in recent decades, at least 100 people were left dead or missing when an overloaded ferry capsized in 2014. No glorious example was set like the above persons in Dhaka.
Known as The Port of Dhaka in terms of passenger traffic in Sadarghat, it is the Bangladesh's busiest port of landing and departure of river craft.  The BIWTA terminal remains constantly jam-packed with innumerable river vessels round-the-clock because of which dropping and weighing anchor can hardly be properly regulated. From Soarighat in the western part to Faridabad in the eastern part along the Buckland Bund on the river as well as the south bank land should be acquired to build control towers equipped with modern devices and machinery to watch the movement of traffic to regulate arrivals and departures of passenger and cargo ships.
Control devices for marine traffic include buoys, lights, sound-generating devices, and lighthouses. As with all other modes, rigid standards and regulations exist governing the use and performance of the devices. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulates operational procedures for avoiding collisions at sea as well as device design. The control of ships near coasts is facilitated, both for warning and navigational purposes, by the use of lightships and lighthouses.
The Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976 was amended in the year 2005 and a law was passed by the parliament titled the Inland Shipping (Amendment) Act 2005 which generally controls the operation of motor launches/vessels in Bangladesh. This law needs to be updated for modernization of inland ports that regulate berthing of motor launches; and this is not expensive compared to the infrastructure developments including the Padma Bridge, the Karnaphuli river tunnel, metrorail and airport expansion now taking place in the country. Bangladesh provides the cheapest travel facilities by motor launches at every nook and corner of the country and as such this sector needs serious attention and reform. Now there are about 500 motor launches plying in the country and more than 200 of these launches serve from Sadarghat of the capital Dhaka daily in normal times.

A.U.M. Fakhruddin and Shahabuddin Ahmad, Dhaka

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