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6 May, 2021 08:01:12 PM
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Maritime disasters: What is the solution?

The perpetrators are often acquitted because the government does not have a strong role to play in investigating and prosecuting these accidents. The movement of the deadly cargo responsible for the recent Narayanganj launch sinking was not approved.
Md. Obaidullah
Maritime disasters: What is the solution?

Water covers three-quarters of the globe, while land occupies one-quarter. Bangladesh is the largest delta in this world. This is surrounded on three sides by land and on one side by water. As Bangladesh is a riverine country, one of the main means of communication is waterways. Ships are still used to transport most of the country's goods and passengers. According to statistics, about 40 percent of the people in the country travel by waterways, on the other hand, more than hundreds of people die every year in watercraft accidents on these waterways. According to the annual report of Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association, at least 313 people were killed in launch accidents in 2020.
In 2016, on the occasion of National Maritime Safety Week, the National Committee for the Protection of Shipping, Roads and Railways published 'Statistics of Naval Accidents in 50 Years'.  According to statistics, at least 2,562 naval accidents took place in the previous year, as a result of which at least 20,508 people lost their lives. The amount of property loss in these accidents is about 3 thousand 417 crore 20 lakh taka. The number of boats involved in the accident during this long period is 2,072.  Of these, 901 vessels were never rescued. Although the numbers are very large, this is a harsh truth.  Who knows if there is anything more which was unpublished and unidentified? Statistics are a lot like Joseph Stalin's saying, "A death is a tragedy, a million deaths are just statistics."
However, such naval accidents are a common occurrence in our country. This is happening all the time. And after these accidents, one or two committees of inquiry are always formed, the results of probe committees of which are occasionally published in newspapers to ensure "transparency". Further, tragedy and loss of life struck again with the passage of time. According to a study, officials who were found guilty of negligence in many of the launch accidents have been promoted. Conversely, in the absence of strict punishment provisions in the law, the owners and drivers have become reckless. The perpetrators are often acquitted because the government does not have a strong role to play in investigating and prosecuting these accidents.  The movement of the deadly cargo responsible for the recent Narayanganj launch sinking was not approved.
In the draft of the Inland Navigation Act, the Department of Shipping has moved away from the sentence of 10 years in case of loss of life or property due to negligence of the driver or owner. Under the pressure of employers and labour leaders, the draft law will be finalized with the provision of 5 years imprisonment. But sadly, the truth is that the navigation law has not been passed in 5 years. And according to the draft law, the culprits would be sentenced to 5 years in exchange for hundred lives, it sounds very ridiculous. Policy makers are moving in favour of a special pressure group. According to them, no law can be made which is impossible to implement and enforce. Nevertheless, the citizens are also key stakeholders and, according to the constitution, the owners of the state; the safety of their lives and property must be prioritized.
According to the Department of Shipping, the rate of accidents on waterways due to collisions is 42.60 percent. Also, the other reasons are following, "faulty design, inadequate inspection of infrastructure and technical condition of vessels, hiring incompetent drivers and staff, providing fitness (survey) and registration without proper inspection of mechanical faults, movement of sand and oil tankers at night, non-compliance of weather forecast." Naval accidents are also caused by navigability crises, the retention of fishing nets in rivers, natural disasters, including cyclones, and overcrowding in vessels. An investigation by the Bangladesh Society of Master Mariners into maritime accidents found that 34 per cent of launch accidents were caused by overburden of passengers.
In the aftermath of a naval accident, a proper investigation committee should be formed and the results of the investigation committee should be published in the print and electronic media for the mass people.  Policy advice from experts should also be taken into account.  The shipping law needs to be reformed and passed quickly, how the culprits will be punished or how the victims will be compensated and of course the welfare of the people must be given priority in this law.  And the concerned authorities should try to implement the law strictly.
It is necessary to keep a close eye on whether a vessel with a defective design is authorised, and to ensure that no vessel can sail without being inspected regularly. Abdur Rahim, former professor of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET), said that, the report of the probe committee mentioned the accident took place due to a faulty vessel. But where was that actual error is not narrated. Since the error is not specified, it's also impossible to fix it.
Besides that, during Eid or monsoon season, authorities, including the ministry of shipping, are preoccupied with maritime security. However, in order to create a safe shipping system, preparing and implementing successful accident prevention measures must be undertaken throughout the year, not just during Eid or the monsoon season. On the river, adequate naval police outposts or traffic should be built so that vessels can navigate properly and not transport extra passengers in the middle of the river, including lifting and unloading.
Employees and drivers who are incompetent should not be employed in any way. The vessel must be carefully inspected and launched from the port every day. In comparison, fitness checks should be made mandatory on a regular basis, with zero tolerance for certification fraud. By using political and lobbying power, no one should be able to run a ship that is unfit or has a defective design. Sailors should pay close attention to the weather forecast, and radar, radio, and GPS trackers should be mounted in all vessels, as well as sufficient life jackets, boats, and buoys.
Human life, after all, is more precious than anything else. We don't want any "mom's laps to be bare." We want to travel in safety and comfort. It is vital for the policy makers to pay attention to the above issues in order to ensure that. Let the river journey to be a haven of calm.

The writer is a policy intern at Youth Policy Forum and pursuing bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from University of Barishal. Email: [email protected]

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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