The crime of negligence | The Daily Star

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Those responsible, including those in the authorities, must be brought to justice

All of these deaths could have been avoided if the crew of MV Abhijan 10 or the river transport authorities had done their job. Photo: Collected

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All of these deaths could have been avoided if the crew of MV Abhijan 10 or the river transport authorities had done their job. Photo: Collected

In the early hours of December 24, the deadliest launch fire in Bangladeshi history wreaked havoc on the MV Abhijan 10 launch, burning so many alive; As of December 28 afternoon, the death toll from the tragedy stood at 42, with more than 50 people still missing. According to information from this daily, more than 50 passengers out of 100 who suffered burns are treated in hospitals in Dhaka and Barishal. Among them, 15 seriously injured patients were admitted to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Plastic Surgery and Burns in Dhaka. Three of them are now on life support.

The gruesome details of the neglect, indifference and ineffectiveness of MV Abhijan 10’s crew members, as well as others in positions of authority, have been the highlights of reports published in recent days. From these reports, what we understand is that there are three parties who should be held responsible for this tragedy: 1) The captain and the launch personnel, whose inefficiency and negligence caused the fatal fire; 2) The owners of the boat who have not taken the trouble to comply with any of the rules concerning the operation of water vessels; and 3) the Department of Shipping and the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), which did not play their role in monitoring and inspecting the vessel and suspending its operation.

Although investigations are underway to uncover the exact reasons for the fire, the first investigations carried out by the Boards of Inquiry identified faulty engines as the main reason. Apparently, the launch’s two engines were replaced with larger engines last month, without obtaining approval from the Ministry of Navigation. Among them, only one was running the night of the fire. What the BOIs found was that the engine overheated due to a lack of lubrication, which could have caused the fire. Other factors that could have helped the fire spread so quickly included an illegally modified engine room and kitchen next to it, as well as the barrels of fuel and gas cylinders stored there. Apparently, all modifications to the vessel were carried out without the approval of the authorities concerned.

Many other irregularities and rule violations were also noted. The owners of the launch are said to have appointed captains and other crew members without the approval of the authorities; on the night of the fire, the longboat was driven by two captains of second class instead of one of first class. In addition, they did not have the necessary fire safety equipment and his crew were not trained in fire safety. In addition, there were around a thousand passengers on board when the launch should have had 420 passengers at night, according to the rules.

Next comes the problem of inefficiency and neglect of crew members. According to a report published in this daily on December 26, nothing was done by the launch team after the MV Abhijan 10 left Dhaka for Barguna on the evening of December 23. the ship was moving without fixing the problem. And when people downstairs sensed the deck was getting warmer – after leaving the Barishal launch terminal around 1:30 a.m. – the captain still kept the boat en route to its destination. According to a member of the investigation committee, it should have been an easy task for the crew members to identify and resolve the engine problem. But apparently they didn’t bother to check the engine.

And what did they do when the entire launch was engulfed in fire, with hundreds of passengers crying out for help? They steered the boat to the bank of the Sugandha River in the Charkathi area of ​​Jhalakathi district and fled without mooring it. If they had tied him to a tree in the area, there might have been far fewer casualties. What is even more shocking is the fact that the launch crew kept the main door closed during the fire, limiting the chances of passengers escaping.

The extent of the apathy and neglect that the captains and launch personnel displayed towards the lives of the passengers is incredible – and nothing short of a criminal offense. Legal proceedings must be instituted against them without delay.

But as we demand the punishment of the launch owners and crew members for this man-made tragedy, we must also hold the Department of Navigation and BIWTA authorities to account. If the owners of the launch are at fault for replacing the engines, changing the masters and crew and modifying their vessel without the approval of the authorities, the maritime authorities and the BIWTA are also at fault for not having inspected the vessel. ship which regularly operated on this river route.

The common excuse we hear from BIWTA and the Department of Shipping is that they don’t have enough manpower to inspect all vessels in service. It would appear that BIWTA has only 25 traffic inspectors across the country, of which seven are deployed to Sadarghat in Dhaka, while the Department of Navigation has a total of 18 inspectors, with only one stationed at Sadarghat. In addition, there are only six inspectors in the navigation department to inspect around 14,000 registered vessels across the country. The question here is: what is preventing them from recruiting more inspectors and surveyors to cover the inspection and surveillance of all active vessels?

Without proper monitoring and inspection, the number of unlicensed and unfit vessels is increasing in our waterways, with unqualified and novice sailors leading them, leading to many tragedies like that of MB Abhijan. The accident of the MV Mayur on June 29, 2020 is still fresh in our memory, where 34 people died as the launch struck a small water boat in the Buriganga River.

In addition, the issue of fire safety is still neglected by the authorities as well as by stakeholders in the sector. Apparently, while many waterboats around the country have elevators, well-furnished rooms, free Wi-Fi, radio communications, and modern gadgets, they have virtually no fire safety equipment. According to the Barishal fire and civil protection services, no fire drills for boat crews have taken place in the past four years.

The responsibility for ensuring that all water transport complies with fire safety regulations also rests with the Department of Shipping and BIWTA. When will they start playing their roles?

It is good news that a complaint has been lodged with the maritime court by an inspector from the Department of Navigation against the four owners of the MV Abhijan 10 and eight others, and the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) has already arrested Hamjalal Sheikh, one of the launch owners. We hope the rest of the owners and crew will be arrested soon. All those guilty of this crime must be arrested and punished, as well as those in positions of authority who did not do the job for which they were recruited. However, given the ineffectiveness of the maritime tribunal and its dismal record in settling cases — only one case has been settled by the tribunal in the past four years — can we really expect that? he does justice to the victims of this immense tragedy?

Naznin Tithi is a member of the Daily Star editorial team.

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