ALONG with its regularly scheduled services, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) is adding to its fleet strength with repaired old vessels to meet the rush of Eid travellers. The BIWTC 's reinstating some nearly eighty year old ships back into service highlights the inadequate fleet capacity of the state-owned corporation. More to the point, would the increased fleet strength, the way it's being done, upgrade the safety status overall? This question begs a satisfactory answer.
Especially restoration of four paddle-wheel steamers, the PS Ostrich, PS Lepcha, PS Mahsud, PS Turn, besides the screw-wheel motor vessel, the MV Banglaee, entails not only massive facelifts but their age-old storm warning systems and safety precautionary methods and capabilities will also need to be upgraded with advanced technologies.
MV Banglaee is our first home-made passenger steamer but it was suddenly withdrawn from service after four months of its commissioning, having been made with poor quality material and reportedly incurring losses. The steamers will not only need to be mechanically fit to carry the expected load, but adequately equipped with buoyant devices for keeping people afloat in an emergency. According to shipping laws of our land no ship is permitted to operate if it's older than 30 years. And the economic life of a water vessel is maximum 25 years.
So there are enough reasons for caution to be exercised in restoring old and expired ships. Given the shocking incidents of boat and ferry capsizes in Bangladesh ensuring safety to passengers should come on top of the priority list.