Ensuring safe launch journey  

Dhaka,  Sun,  23 July 2017
Published : 11 Jun 2017, 19:17:40
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Ensuring safe launch journey  

As the greatest Muslim festival Eid-ul Fitr is fast approaching, hectic repair works are now going on at dockyards on the bank of the Buriganga River just opposite to the Sadarghat terminal. In most cases, though, it is no more than face-lift to unfit passenger launches. A picture carried in the FE on Saturday, clearly testifies to this. The accompanying report quoted workers as saying that owners contacted them for refurbishing their vessels. It is not their headache whether the launches have fitness certificates or not. Around 30 small and large unfit vessels were undergoing refurbishment at Dakkhin Keraniganj on Thursday and Friday last. 

Such a patchwork of unfit passenger launches is indeed a cause for great concern. Although plans for ensuring safe river journeys just before the festival, as announced, are quite impressive, what remains to be seen is how effectively these are enforced during the holidays. It is time the relevant agencies visited these dockyards and immediately took action so that such unfit launches could not be pressed into service. Most worrying is the mad rush of people to board launches during the Eid holidays. Thus, overloading is a regular feature during the festival time. Due to absence of prior ticketing system, the actual number of passengers on board often remains unknown. This is a cause for overloading. A survey estimates that capsize of overloaded vessels killed over 6,000 passengers in 535 accidents in the last two decades. While a launch can carry 800 to 1,500 passengers on an average, during Eid, each carries two and a half to three times the capacity. Sometimes the authorities issue notices to faulty launches for stopping operation until retrofitted correctly. But most owners succeed in operating their unfit launches in collusion with a section of officials of the BIWTA and the Department of Shipping, ignoring the Inland Shipping Ordinance (ISO). Most alarming is the scarcity of trained, skilled and competent crew for safe operation of the vessels. There is no sufficient number of trained deck personnel to meet the huge demand. As a result, motor launch owners rely on unskilled and untrained crew.

In many instances, launch owners simply ignore or disregard safety of the passenger vessels by effecting illegal and dangerous modifications like changing length or breadth or height without any prior consultation with a qualified engineer. Checking design and plan of an inland vessel is a very special type of job and only a person with naval-architecture background can do this type of special task. Unfortunately, most of the personnel engaged in design checking process are just mechanics having no certified training. Consequently, flawless design of inland passenger vessels can never be achieved if this continues. Besides, design checking is usually a time-consuming job that also requires supporting software and infrastructures.  

While there will be 30 entry and exit points to and from Sadarghat terminal during the coming Eid holidays, around 2,500 police, RAB, coast guard and Ansar members along with a hundred scouts will be working from June 21 at the terminal and other launch stations. They must maintain strict surveillance to stop launches from carrying extra passengers at 21 berths/ pontoons. Steps must be in place to see that such vigilance is strictly maintained.
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Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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