Bangladesh: Preventing the Launch Tragedies
Like the previous times, there will be multiple investigative reports and recommendations. Cabinet Ministers and Parliamentary Members will show outcry filled whimpers in their decorative visits in villages, homes of hundreds of victims perished in the Meghna’s recent launch M.V. Nasrin-1 capsize disaster. This is the similar trend observed in the previous catastrophes in Bangladesh. In a few months, the reports will gather dusts and recommendations will be discarded quietly while public attentions are transferred to other emotional issues of the days.
The grief stricken father was hugging his son on the bank of Meghna. A veiled woman was wiping off her tears, and other anguished faces and eyes looked on. Only a few bodies are recovered. Hundreds are feared to be washed away in the vigorous river current. In 1994, around the same spot, M.V. Dinar was drowned with 400 travelers, that ship was never recovered. Bangladesh does not have state-of-the art equipments for the timely recovery job. The time is well past to tackle this issue of enhancing the capability of aging recovery ships and equipments.
The Daily Star editorial recommended that imposing strict punishments on the responsible launch companies, fining them heavily, and making them pay for the injured and perished victims’ families might be a good deterrent. The editorial writes, “The fact of the matter is, the launch owners and operators who had been previously in breach of law got away, so that violation of rules has been a recurrent phenomenon. If the errant launch operators were punished, there would have been a deterrent effect and we wouldn't perhaps be witness to such tragedies time and again.”
Strong leadership in implementing all the dust gathering old reports and recommendations are a sure necessity. Rather than continuing the endless squabbling between the two major political parties in Bangladesh, why don’t the honorable Prime Minister Begum Khalida Zia and the honorable opposition party leader Shaikh Hasina Wajed join in a real struggle for preventing the certainty of more preventable tragedies waiting to be unlocked in the future?
Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
July 9, 2003
Launch disaster one too many
Recurrence of accidents as past violators went unpunished
Though it is not yet known exactly how many lives were lost in Tuesday night's launch capsize in the Meghna, initial reports say over 80 per cent of the 700 or so passengers perished.
The launch that sank was clearly overloaded. Incredible though it may sound, a survivor has divulged that the vessel was carrying passengers of another launch, which could not, for some reason or the other, make its scheduled journey. So the vessel might have been carrying double the number of passengers it had the capacity for. And all this has happened only a few months after a series of launch disasters claimed hundreds of lives.
What is evident from the latest capsize is that navigational rules are still honoured more in their breach than observance. But why? The fact of the matter is, the launch owners and operators who had been previously in breach of law got away, so that violation of rules has been a recurrent phenomenon. If the errant launch operators were punished, there would have been a deterrent effect and we wouldn't perhaps be witness to such tragedies time and again.
We have to recall here that nor'westers in the month of April accounted for many launch accidents. The situation reached such a pass that launches were barred, for a brief period though, from operating during the most vulnerable hours in the evening. Apart from that, attempts were made to get at the root of the problem as to why so many launches capsized in such a short time. That led to categorisation of the vessels on the basis of their river worthiness. A number of vessels were found to be totally unfit for carrying passengers. But we have not yet heard of any follow-up measure in this respect.
The shipping minister himself addressed the issue and there was a short spurt of hyper-activity which created the impression that the government would not let the matter rest until some safety measures were put in place.
But when overloading, the most avoidable risk factor, has caused another major disaster
it is hard to believe that the situation has changed.
We condole the deaths of the launch passengers and would like to urge the government to go beyond forming another probe body, which is of course necessary to ascertain the causes behind the capsize, but the emphasis must be on eliminating breach of rules. It is time also to make compensatory payments to families of launch accident victims mandatory. That itself could have a deterring effect.