The terrible launch accident in the Buriganga River near Dhaka on the morning of June 29 stood out for several reasons. The mishap had almost all the commonfeatures that characterise water transport accidents in the country's innumerable rivers.
But a striking aspectwas its uncanny resemblance to accidents that remain limited to city roads and highways. A large motor-launch ramming into a smaller one from behind and causing the latter to sink with over 70 passengers aboard in a few seconds doesn't occur normally in the country. It defies logic as to what might prompt a driver of a launch to rear-end another, that too in broad daylight.
It didn't take long for thegrim truth to surface: the driver of the larger vessel, called Moyur-2,had a novice at its helm. The original driver was not at the scene. As had been learnt later, M.L. Morning Bird, the smaller vessel, was normally moving towards its destination, the Sadarghat launch terminal, on the capital's southern riverbank. None on the commuting launch operating on Munshiganj-Dhaka route had reasons to have any feeling of misgiving or take precautions against a soon-to-happen terrible accident. But it did happen, resulting in more than 35 dead and some missing; many swam ashore.
The sinking of M.L. Morning Bird in a weird type of accident invariably reminds many of similar mishaps on roads. The sad aspect of the episode is the authorities concerned have been able to enforce a semblance of traffic laws on the country's roads, but the waterways remain free of all kinds of legal restraints and monitoring. The river transport sector, especially the operators of launches, trawlers and engine boats, continues to go scot-free. There are none to keep surveillance on their movement in the inland waterways. Even head-on and side collisions between launches are nothing new in the river-filled country. Besides, sinking of vessels due to overloading and on being caught in storms plagues the water transport sector.
Few years pass in the country without at least half a dozen major launch mishaps. To the nation's woes, there are virtually no effective arrangementsfor keeping yearly data on the waterway accidents, along with lists of passengers who die tragic deaths and those who go missing for ever. The scenario of the salvage ofsunken vessels also smacks of miserable equipment deficiencies and dearth of expert manpower. There are instances of ill-fated launches being drawn to the sea by strong currents never to be traced.
The otherwise dying Burigangahaving the yearly monsoon current wore a normal look on the day of the mishap. In the rivers like the Buriganga or theShitalakkhya, small launches, trawlers etc normally become victims of storms, especially thenor'wester. Dozens of river transports fall victim to these storms that make their assaultsall of a sudden. Had the launch M.L. Morning Bird with low passenger capacitygone under water during a storm, people would have reached a rational conclusion. It was morning. The sky was cloudless, the river quiet, with hundreds of ships and motor-launches docking at the busy Sadarghat terminal or leaving for their destinations.
That at such a moment a small launch dedicated to mainly carrying passengers on Dhaka-Munshiganj-Dhaka route could be hit by a bigger vessel points invariably to one thing - recklessness. Reckless driving has earned a lot of notoriety for the road transport sector; now it seems to have begun creeping into the country's waterways.Urgent remedial measures are warranted to prevent the blight from deteriorating further.