Inland Shipping Laws
BIWTA must carry out primary duties
Negligence of inland water transport service operators every year causes death of hundreds of passengers. And concerned authority let it happen. When such a shipping casualty occurs, governments take 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. Because it spares the other side to continue negligence, that is to say BIWTA (Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority). For example, when the last massive casualty at Bhola happened, government sued the ship owner. Responsible ship owners and operators must be tried. Although the opposition took its old position by claiming the proceedings politically motivated, but it's a good job undoubtedly. Ship owners, who carry passengers four times of capacity and drown them, must be tried. But holding BIWTA accountable also seems to be inevitable. Because it was the duty of BIWTA to ensure that shipping laws are being followed accordingly, which it failed to perform; this failure ultimately results in the loss of hundreds of citizen life every year.
The last affected Ship 'Coco 4' had its fitness certificate declaring it to be capable of carrying 370 passengers. But on 27th November at night when Coco-4 sank near Uzirpur Ghat of Lalmohan upazilla under Bhola district, about 1,400 passengers was on board. Only 86 passengers were formally declared to be rescued. Rescue work was undertaken by Local Administration, and relatives of dead passengers were given Tk.3000/ as consoling sum. BIWTA launched rescue after 24 hours of accident. Two relief ships could not complete rescue mission because of their low capacity, mission was finished unsuccessfully.
At all, it's a total failure of BIWTA, this authority firstly failed to prevent breaking of law, secondly it has failed to protect the victims. 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.
After every accident, name of a court come to news- marine court. Because it helps the negligent authority to say- O! We are taking steps! You see, we have already sued the responsible. Although because of poor investigation and evidence authority can hardly prove the accused as guilty before the marine court. But the other court- mobile Court, which is for preventive legal actions are hardly seen on work. The Court seems to be active at the time of Eid occasions and at Dhaka terminal only. But news report say during last Eid the Court did not work regularly even at the Dhaka terminal. So ship operators got the opportunity to carry passengers beyond their capacity. And after such a massive casualty inland shipping are undergoing without any activities of Mobile Court yet.
Journalist and regular
passenger of Dhaka-Bhola route.