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Law enforcement needed to check launch accidents PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 04 February 2008

Staff Correspondent

Discussants at a round table on ‘Launch Capsize and Legal Remedies’ on Saturday suggested modernisation of the Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 to reduce accidents in country’s riverine routes.

The participants, who included former justices, jurists, law enforcers, officials of the shipping authorities, leaders of shipping associations and right activists, also demanded proper implementation of the Ordinance to strengthen the process of ensuring survey, registration and control of the vessels plying inland waters.

Organised by the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust at BIAM auditorium, the meet was moderated by its executive director, Taslimur Rahman.

The discussants blamed the Department of Shipping Authority and the Bangladesh Water Inland Authority for not implementing the laws to reduce the frequent accidents on the crowded routes which have claimed hundreds of lives.

Former Justice Naimuddin Ahmed expressed the need for enactment of laws on corporate accountability, as has been done in the developed countries where the owners, masters and administrators are held responsible for mishaps and are either punished or forced to pay damages and compensation.

The Marine Court’s magistrate, Zakir Hossain, stressed the need for changing the Ordinance as it was biased towards the accused. ‘We can hand down the highest punishment of only five years or a penalty of only Tk 1 lakh in fine, and that only when the accused confesses his guilt.’

He stressed the necessity of increasing both the terms of imprisonment and the amount of fine to induce shippers to think twice before they break the law. He also sought proper application of the existing law.

He said that the general people do not have access to justice under the existing law as victims are not able to lodge case against offenders. ‘If one wants to lodge a case with the police, he has to inform the government and the authorities who will only allow him to lodge the case if inquiry proves there has been any irregularity.’

Needless to say, other participants told this correspondent, such inquiries remain inconclusive for some reason or other, and are never revealed to the public.

Supreme Court lawyer Nizamul Huq Nasim suggested withdrawal of court fees for such victims to enable them to lodge cases in the courts to demand compensation.

Incidents of launch capsize and collision have increased due to appointment of unskilled masters, drivers, sukanis and sarengs, said rights activists Mohammad Mahbub. The shipping department allows launch-owners to build large, unscientifically designed launches, which easily capsize, and often do.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority has no effective salvage vessel, he said, adding that it has only two salvage ships which are unable to pull up capsized vessels.

He alleged that launch owners are involved in politics and government could not enforce the law because of their political affiliations.

He suggested the port authority be empowered to take instant action against shippers who break the law.

The BIWTA’s traffic deputy director Mohammad Abdul Bashar said there are usually 20,000 to 25,000 passengers travelling by the river routes everyday, and the number rises to above 1,00,000 before and after festivals.

‘We have two salvage ships — Hamza and Rustom — which can retrieve launches weighing only 60 tons, but weight of a launch during festivals is more than 500 tons,’ he added.

He said that BIWTA has a training centre at Narayanganj for drivers and masters of ships. Launch owners can appoint masters and drivers from the centre.

The Bangladesh Launch Labour Association’s senior vice-president, Mohammad Shah Alam, said the number of launch accidents can be reduced if marine laws are enforced properly.

The owner of a launch of a given size is given licence to load 450 passengers, but carries at least 2,000 passengers.

‘How can he do it if the authorities concerned are vigilant?’ he questioned. During incidents of capsize the authorities conduct inquiries and the committees are formed with criminals to protect the offenders, he alleged.

‘There are six to seven surveyors in the shipping department but they to do not go to the docks to survey the vessels under construction or inspect the ones in operation,’ said Alam.

The association’s president also alleged that the former mobiles court were assigned for inspection but were ‘managed’ by the launch-owners with bribes.

Jahangir Alam, assistant superintendent of police, suggested the establishment of police stations at shipping ports for enabling them to take immediate action against offenders.

He also sought help from the mobile phone companies who providing emergency service like weather forecast.

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