Vol. 5 Num 263 Tue. February 22, 2005  
Front Page

Govt sleeps as over 4,000 die in decade
Not a single probe report published yet

Over 4,000 people have died in water vessel disasters in the last decade alone, largely because the government, even after tall talks and strong commitments on several occasions, has utterly failed to develop any mechanism to protect the lives of launch passengers.

The latest launch accident on Saturday night, in which 120 passengers died while plying the river Buriganga, highlights the long and poor track record of river vessel safety.

According to official figures, 3,120 people have died in 261 major launch disasters in the country since 1977. But unofficial sources say the number is significantly higher, since the government estimate includes only those bodies that have been recovered, and not those that have been washed away. Unofficial sources say the death toll, including un-recovered bodies, stands more accurately at 4,120.

Little is known about the causes of these deaths, since the government has failed to publish any reports resulting from probe committees formed in the wake of previous launch disasters.

The accidents continue, thanks to the government's failure in implementing a sound and effective security mechanism. The mobile courts set up at the Sadarghat Launch Terminal on several occasions, for example, have been unable to check over-loading of passengers and goods from being carried on deck.

Even where hints of progress have been made, efforts have come up short. The government had earlier engaged Magistrate Munir Chowdhury at the Sadraghat Launch Terminal to implement disciplinary measures following the MV Nasreen-1 launch disaster in 2003.

But Munir, despite making significant progress, was withdrawn following pressure from a vested group in launch owners association.

The decision of imposing a ban on nighttime passenger launches during the storm season was also not implemented because of reluctance on the part of the launch owners.

Even when faulty and deviant ship designs were cited as one of the major causes of launch disasters, the government did not advance the initiative of convening a local classification society to ensure standard ship designs, as recommended by experts.

These problems have persisted despite recent funding allocations for safety and security. After a major launch disaster last year, shipping minister Akbar Hossain cited a fund shortage in his ministry as one of the major causes of the shipping sector's weak security system.

He had demanded Tk 200 crore for improvement of safety and security measures in the river route, and the government responded with an allocation of Tk 85 crore.

But the minister expressed satisfaction after receiving the allocation and committed to resigning if any major launch disasters occurred in the country in the future.

"I shall resign if any major (launch) accident occurs after such an allocation is made," Akbar committed to journalists on May 25, 2004 while speaking at his office.

Ferry disasters have recently become a regular phenomenon in Bangladesh. In May last year, 76 people died when a launch capsized in the Meghna near Chandpur. Over 100 remained missing after the disaster.

The disaster of the MV Nasreen-1 at the confluence of the Padma and the Meghna on July 8, 2003 left 600 people dead. The launch had sailed with over 1,000 passengers.

Officially, 110 bodies were recovered after the disaster while 199 passengers remained missing. People believe many dead bodies were washed away by the current of the river, never to be found.

In April of the same year, the MV Mitali-3 sank in the Buriganga near Pagla with 350 passengers on board. As many as 131 bodies were recovered after the disaster. Unofficial estimates, however, counted over 200 dead as strong currents washed away many additional bodies.

A man wails as he talks on a mobile phone to his relative Sunday after finding the body of his dear one, who is among 120 dead in a launch capsize on Saturday night. PHOTO: AFP