Ensuring safety for people during river journeys still remains largely elusive. The terrible collision involving an unregistered speedboat and a sand-carrying vessel last week has proved this once again. This time it was not a collision - frontal, sideways or anything resembling rear-ending. The May 3 accident was an instance of naked recklessness on the part of the passenger-filled tiny speedboat. With a rooky driver steering it, the speeding boat crashed onto a vessel many times bigger than it. The early morning accident left 26 passengers, including women and children dead. A 9-year-old girl lost her parents and two sisters in the accident, rendering her completely orphaned and the only survivor of the family.
The May 3 mishap was, in fact, an uncanny re-enactment of such avoidable accidents occurring all over the river-filled country. In the recent case, the ill-fated motorboat was on a trip from Munshiganj's Shimulia Ferry Terminal to Bangla Bazar Ghat in Shibchar, Madaripur. The deadly accident occurred near Bangla Bazar on the Padma River. As has been seen on many occasions witnessing these accidents, after a spell of efforts to identify the offenders and promises to bring them to justice, the whole episode begins fizzling out. Eventually, they get lodged in the memories of those now alive and were present in and around the mishaps' venues. The case of the speedboat mishap and the senseless deaths can be termed careening towards a similar destiny. To the disappointment of the regular river travellers, the stern action needed to rein in reckless boats remains illusory. The foremost of these measures is the one involving the speedboats' legality of plying river routes commercially; most of them are not registered with the proper authorities.
In the recent years, these passenger boats plying different routes operate, nonchalantly, without any legal nod. Approximately, a total of over-thousand motorboats operate between ferry terminals and 'ghats' in the country. Of them just a few have registrations. The others are moving with passengers aboard round the year unlawfully. With the registration issue plaguing the speedboat operations, some other irregularities also crop up. They include unskilled and apprentice drivers at the wheel, dearth of adequate life-jackets on the boats, and lack of emergency equipment required during sudden storms. A vital aspect of river journeys and trips which trouble the waterway-monitoring agencies is the routine buck-passing resorted to by different authorities. In other words, the blame-game continues to be in operation at full throttle after every accident involving river vessels. The latest speedboat mishap has witnessed the replay of this old ritual. Several government authorities have been found this time pointing the finger at each other. Prominent of them are the regulatory office of the Department of Shipping, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the naval police, the coast guards, the local administrations and the law enforcement agencies. A stunning information came up in the process; the 'terminal leaseholders' also play a vital role in the operation of the river transports.
With so many authorities overseeing the river vessels' operations, few being aware of their exact roles, chaos in the passenger transport movements is veritably par for the course. Due to some accidents' occurrence near the capital, few small or big cases can escape notice of the people, the administration and the media. But in a country filled with short- and long- distance speedboat routes, many operating in outlying areas, lots of errant vessels remain beyond legal dragnets. This blight warrants urgent remedial measure.