a year ago

Steamer in BD embraces Titanic's nemesis

Last two docked as Padma Bridge makes them irrelevant

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Passenger steamer in Bangladesh now embraces Titanic's fate with the last state-run two docked Thursday as the imposing Padma Bridge conquered the mighty river and made them irrelevant.

Sources said the water-transport corporation suspended services of its remaining two passenger-carrying steamers because of ballooning losses.

With the sudden decision, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) literarily halted the passenger-carrying services from the capital.

Despite poor passenger turnout after the opening of the mega-infrastructure that significantly reduced the travel time by connecting the southern districts, the BIWTC continued the service through subsidy.

But the latest hike in petroleum fuels made a strong bite on the corporation's balance sheet with mounting operational expenses. And it forced the BIWTC to take the decision of shutting the service for the southerners, according to them.

When contacted, BIWTC director (commercial) SM Ashikuzzaman said they had no other option but to suspend the service as operational expenses keep ballooning.

On the last 12 trips, both the steamers - the MV Madhumati and the MV Bangali-incurred a loss of around Tk 4.5 million.

"It means, the earnings we made through selling tickets are too little to cover the fuel costs, forget about other expenses," he says.

When asked about the future of the steamer service from Sadarghat, he said they need to revise the operational plan of the service.

It'll probably not be a wise decision to resume the service from Sadarghat because people are not interested to enjoy the river journey that takes hours after inauguration of the bridge, he added.

"We might be required to change the river routes. We will sit soon about the fate of the service," he says.

Seeking anonymity, another BIWTC official said when the BIWTC started building the vessels, the authorities had expected to ring up Tk 70 million in profit a year from the vessels but the reality, later, turned out to be different.

The financial loss from the two vessels that look classy and modern keep mounting over the years and become a burden for the corporation owing to gross mismatch between their earnings and expenditures, he says.

"The latest price hike of fuel oils is the last nail in the coffin as 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the deck and cabin facilities remain empty on each trip," he mentions.

He also says the sudden decision of shutting the service left many passengers in the lurch as they received phone calls from several passengers who want to travel to the south.

"The BIWTC as a state-run agency should continue the service and it should not take such tough decision without notice," he adds.

Initially, the steamers operated on Dhaka-Barishal-Morolganj-Khulna river route but the route was cut by excluding Khulna, considering the financial viability.

To further cut its operational cost, the corporation brought major change in its vessels' operating schedule. Each of the steamers is operated alternately on weekly basis. The steamer sails from Dhaka on Thursday and Monday and from Morolganj on Saturday and Wednesday.

Senior corporation officials argue passengers' apathy to avail the services coupled with high fuel cost was the reason behind the poor financial performance of the steamers, built by the country's local shipbuilder Western Marine.

The shipping ministry took up a Tk 5.36-billion project in 2012 for building the two vessels.

Western Marine Shipyard Ltd built the vessels-each 76-metre long, capable of transporting 760 passengers in four categories of cabins, including one for VIPs. Each of the vessels has conference and dining rooms.

Earlier, the BIWTC had shut commercial operation of its three paddle steamers and twelve water buses.

Now-after the epical end of the steamers, veritably like the historic British ship Titanic-the corporation has two coastal passengers and four container-carrying vessels left in operation.

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