Today only a handful
of the members of the Supervisory Panel are certifying
the fitness of vessels. As most of the members are living
abroad, only few remain to check the deviation in vessel
design and construction. Three of the 17 members have
already been ousted for their malpractice. Chowdhury
believes that the panel member must follow a process
that would involve all members. Only then can the malpractice
of issuing the certificates by a member be stopped.
Surveys that are required
for registration as well as yearly surveys of the vessels
should undergo a similar process. This will arrest the
practice of issuing registration by the Inland surveyors
without even seeing the vessel.
Last year, after the
sinking of MV Nasrin-1, a ship that had faulty structures,
one of the designers, Abdus Samad had to face an investigation
committee. The committee in its report held Samad responsible
for approving the faulty design of Nasrin-1. As a result,
his name was struck off from the list of designers.
Chowdhury also points out one major problem in co-ordinating
all the steps that finally go to provide the green light
to a vessel. "That two organisations -- BIWTA and
the Department of Shipping -- are involved in a series
of actions that in the end declares a vessel fit, make
things more complicated. The whole procedure needs to
be supervised by one organisation, it will help do away
with the problem of one organisation pointing fingers
at the other when problems surface," observes Chowdhury.
approves the design, and the registration is given by
the Department of Shipping, and in the end, no one is
there to own up to the responsibilities when a launch
sinks. A surveyor who is referred to as the inland surveyor
is the key person. He is usually a Marine Engineer,
Naval Architect and a Master Mariner, and is in charge
of clearing the way for registration," says Chowdhury.
Chowdhury emphasises the rampant corruption that is
the biggest hurdle in maintaining safety standards of
the vessels. He stresses that the whole system is corrupt
due to pervading nepotism. "Even after the ousting
of some professionals, they are using their signature
using earlier dates" Chowdhury reveals.
There are three key
areas that are subject to scrutiny when an expert like
Chowdhury finds himself vis-à-vis a sunken vessel.
While safe manoeuvring is an important consideration
so are safe designing and the safe construction. According
to Chowdhury, most vessels in Bangladesh fail to qualify
in these key areas. It is the Naval Architect and the
surveyors who are involved in the whole process.
Even after a series
of disasters that forced the government, the experts
and the owners of the launches to awake up and find
a solution to the extremes of discrepancies in constructing
and plying of vessels, no effective steps have been
taken that could have prevented this year's mishaps.
Overloading is often
cited as the cause of capsize, which is a misconception
that often distracts our attention from the real causes
of accidents. Although in some cases, overloading is
one of the causes, often it plays only a small part
in the compound of problems that ail this sector.
"The two passenger
vessels that sunk recently were not overloaded. A design
of a vessel takes into account all the factors,"
affirms Chowdhury. "And if a vessel has the capacity
to take one and a half hundred people, it can easily
carry two hundred. Vessel design should also take into
account the fierce weather during May and June, otherwise
it will have a handicap from the beginning" Chowdhury
scapegoat, after any terrible mishap, is the shareng.
In an article published last year in The Daily Star,
Dr. KH Shahriar Iqbal, an assistant professor of the
department of NAME in BUET, wrote, "The government
is putting too much emphasis only on the skill of operation
and maintenance of engines and machinery for manning
the maritime administration. All other disciplines are
treated as secondary." This simply shows that often
the authorities were dealing with imaginary problems.
In the face of one launch
disaster after another, the Shipping Minister Akbar
Hossain remains unfazed. His usual excuses include either
the shortage of funds or the non-co-operation from the
relevant people of his ministry. It is certain that
a group of people have been scheming to gain financially
from the present state of mismanagement. Meanwhile the
series of major disasters that started from last year
have taken close to a thousand lives.
The recent mishaps have
forced the minister to confront a strong voice of concern
that not only questions his competence but also demands
his removal from the concerned ministry. But even eight
days after the capsize of two passenger carrying launches
and another two barges, on May 22, when the official
death toll was rising and more than fifty remain unaccounted
for, the minister still seemed complacent. He declared
that an allocation of 200 crore taka could help solve
The honourable minister,
as usual, confirmed that there would be actions against
people who failed to do their duties. To quote his exact
words uttered to the journalists after the recent capsize
of four launches, "You will see a series of firing
and transfer of people within a couple of weeks."
Promises were made in many prior occasions, but in reality
actions were never in conformity with the resolve that
the authorities usually showed after each accident.
After the recent accident,
the minister, however, admitted that there is a bunch
of corrupt people in his ministry. These are the people
that are helping the apathetic owners of launches to
get their own way. This means getting certificates of
fitness through unfair means. Not that there are cases
of falsification of certificates, but the procedure
of getting the fitness certificate signed and readied
by a certain quarter in exchange of money has become
standard practice. "There are groups of people
who are jointly operating with only mercenary motives,
people who are arranging for all the signatures at all
the stages that finally help obtain the fitness certificates
and registration," says Chowdhury.
Though the minister
has emphasised the need of a Local Classification Society,
in reality no progress has been made along this line.
In a Daily Star round table last year, a consensus among
the experts, the government and the representatives
of the Launch Owner Association was reached. The decision
was that there would be a body called the Local Classification
Society, which would monitor the designs and construction
of launches. In that round table, Chowdhury was a participant
among others. To his and his other fellow concerned
engineers' utter disappointment, the idea did not go
any further than evaluation, which has been rejected
by the ministry of shipping, says Chowdhury with dismay.
After nine months there is no such society in sight.
served as a member of the inquiry committee that was
formed last year after Nasrin-1's disastrous accident.
Headed by BD Mitra, the deputy secretary of the shipping
ministry, the inquiry committee surveyed the system
of getting approvals on all the stages and examined
57 D category vessels and later submitted their findings
to the ministry, but nothing progressed from that point
None of the 57 vessels
were found stable. They all failed the fitness test,
yet they all had certificates that declared them fit.
It was in last August that the authority said they would
form the Local Classification Society, but that still
remains to be materialised.
Later there was a decision
to assign a few companies to supervise the whole procedure;
that too got stalled, for so long that it took another
great disaster to bring these issues on the table again.
A company named Bashundhara
built 50 launches certified by Abdur Rahim, an associate
professor of BUET. A member of the Supervisory Panel,
he signed the clearance certificates for many unfit
launches resulting in his removal. The Department of
Shipping had hired him again, it is in this occasion
that he okayed the design of the recently sunk M V Lighting
The minister voices
his discontentment over this matter saying that a vested
quarter in his ministry and the Department of Shipping
have been putting obstacles in forming the local Classification
Society that will replace the Supervisory Panel. A tender
was called on August 4, 2003 inviting applications for
enlisting members of a Local Classification Society
that would be responsible for maintaining the quality
of design, construction and operation. But it is because
of the uncontrolled corruption that it did not materialise.
registration practices continue to take a heavy toll
on a nation that has, in the last two years, seen an
astonishing number of its citizen lost to accidents
at rivers. On the occasion of most investigations, the
Department of Shipping religiously blame it on natural
catastrophe. As an expert in the field of Naval Architecture,
Chowdhury is of the opinion that no matter how many
people the authorities involve in it, it won't result
in proper investigation. "As it is the lack of
ability to conduct modern investigation that keeps everyone
far off from the facts," exclaims Chowdhury. He
also testifies that it has become so easy to get the
papers straight that owners often change the name of
the launch. "You wouldn't know whether this Lighting
Sun was called Rising Sun before, one launch keeps getting
many names to evade complying with the rules and to
elude the authorities," he reveals.
The problems are known,
so are the solutions. What is needed now is the resolve
to implement what the experts have so far prescribed,
only then a change in the status quo could be hoped