Eid is coming, and it’s heavy monsoon in this land of rivers. Soon, the inland and coastal waterways will be crowded with millions ‘home-goers’ and they will return to the cities after short stay; this is supposed to be business as usual. But with a negligent regulatory authority like Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), there are things to be worried.
Long story short; with it’s record of huge ‘criminal negligence’; BIWTA is ferrying death in the rivers.
We have got a almost unregulated inland water transport sector ‘by the virtue’ of BIWTA. Probably Bangladesh’s consistent record of ferry accidents and number of deaths is unparalleled in the region. Technically speaking most of the event we call as ‘accident’ is in fact consequence of criminal negligence by BIWTA. I’m explaining.
As a southerner I can tell you, without some exception in Barishal and Bhola route (where a handful of passenger ship operates) almost all the passenger ferries will give you a feeling that they are not safe, once you board them. And when a accident happens you will find the news that, the doomed ferry did not have a ‘fitness’ certificate at the first place. More than 95 percent of the ferries does not meet minimum safety regulation.
Not only a sector run by unfit crafts, you know, even the names and number of missing persons after an accident is very difficult to find. My experience is the ferries only keep passengers details of their luxury cabins, while ninety percent of the passengers travels on deck, remain unaccounted, unnamed.
The responsible agency is BIWTA. It is the duty of BIWTA to ensure that shipping laws are being followed accordingly, which it fails to perform; this negligence ultimately results in the loss of hundreds of citizen life every year. But the agency shows no sign of willingness that it has any plan to regulate the water transport industry in near future.
When such a casualty occurs, administration takes it as a routine work; they form an inquiry to make report thereon, the report held the ship owner and operator responsible, it makes a recommendation also which is never carried out. But the administration and law enforcing agencies always overlook BIWTA’s complicity. No one thinks about holding BIWTA accountable.
The statute relating to inland shipping is Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976. The Ordinance deals with the provision of survey, registration and control relating to vessels. Section 47 of the Ordinance provides for the constitution of Marine Court consisting of a Magistrate of the First Class to try the offences under this Ordinance.
Chapter V says about protective measures for vessels and passengers, that is an inland ship before voyage must ensure that it has route permit, telecommunication equipment, protective measures against fire and other explosives and insurance with a company. The government may send inspecting officers to inspect the inland ships their machinery, equipments, certificate of registry, certificate of survey, route permit, competency of master and all other necessary documents.
In addition a Mobile Court established under the Mobile Court Ordinance, 2009 is to be operated for the purposes of this Inland Shipping Ordinance. The Mobile Court shall be conducted by an Executive Magistrate or District Magistrate to ensure that ship owners and operators are complying with the provisions of law. Provisions of imprisonment and fine as punishment have been made for violators of this law. At the same time Magistrate can sue the concerned ship owner for compensation.
Unfortunately Mobile Court under Inland Shipping Ordinance, which is for preventive legal actions are hardly seen on work. After every accident, name of a court come to news- Marine Court, which is a regular court for primary trial. But because of poor investigation and evidence authority can hardly prove the accused as guilty before the marine court.
It is important to note that, in recent years, extreme weather events has became more common and frequent. And it’s heavy monsoon now. Normally about ninety percent of annual rainfall in Bangladesh occurs in the monsoon months, from June to September. Monsoon in this sub-tropical land comes not only with heavy rainfall, but with overflowing rivers with increased velocity of the stream, regular midnight storms, heavy wind and cyclones. So we have our reasons to fear about ferries in these times.
Mohammad Arju is a journalist and marine conservationist. He can be reached at [email protected]