Yet another deadly launch capsize in Barisal

YET another launch capsize left at least 13 people dead in Barisal on Wednesday. Several others were still missing. The launch started to sway because of heavy current and finally sank at Dasherhat, as New Age reported on Thursday, as the launch headed to Wazirpur in Barisal from Banaripara through the River Sandhya. The launch had, as the Barisal port officer who is also a deputy director of river security and traffic wing of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said, no route permit. Moreover, it was carrying passengers beyond its capacity. In this context, there is, indeed, hardly any reason for surprise at the tragic incident. But there are reasons to conclude that the launch was in illegal operation under the nose of the people responsible for looking into the issue. Besides, there are enough reasons to think that the illegal operation had gone on for many days, weeks or even months. Overall, relevant government authorities as well as the owner of the launch cannot avoid their responsibilities for the fatal accident.
The country saw several river transport accidents every year in the past few decades, in which several thousand people died while hundreds of families lost their sole bread earners. Additionally, in most cases, investigations revealed that the accident took place because of either the faulty design of the vessel or overcrowding. What is more important is that there were hardly any cases in which the authorities responsible for dealing with such issues had to face exemplary punishment for their failure to discharge their duties. That apart, while the government washed its hands of the matters just after giving some money in compensation to families of the victims, its pledges made in the face of public outrage triggered by an accident to implement the recommendations of the investigation committee over streamlining the sector became rhetoric once the public outrage died down. It may be worth noting that there are thousands of vessels, including engine boats, carrying passengers and goods on river routes all over the country. According to various studies, most of them still remain unregistered while fitness tests of even the registered ones are hardly done regularly.
In fact, while the general apathy of government authorities to public interest is mainly responsible for the recurrence of such deadly vessel disasters, the fact that mostly low-income people travel by ferries as the journey is usually cheaper than that by other modes of transport adds to the problem. That the pressure from different rights groups — which are dominated by the elite having little reason to be serious enough about protecting the interest of ordinary people — on the government over streamlining the inland water transport sector is episodic also contributes to the situation. In any case, the government immediately needs to take effective steps to make a difference in the situation while conscious sections of society need to raise their voice over the issue.

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