Hours after his arrest, Abu Bakar Siddique, the owner of Pinak-6, blamed BIWTA officials and some influential people at the launch terminals for the disaster that claimed over 100 lives.
"I am an owner. I don't stay all the time at the launch terminal … How can I know the number of passengers getting on my launch?" he said.
A joint team of Rab-7 and Rab-11 arrested him at his relative's house in Agrabad Housing area in Chittagong city around 3:30am.
He was produced before the media at Rab headquarters where he said it was the responsibility of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) as it controlled launch operations in the ten days prior to and after Eid.
The Pinak-6, which was on its way to Mawa from Kawrakandi, was carrying more than 200 passengers against a capacity of 85. It sank in the choppy waters of the Padma amid strong winds around 11:00am on August 4.
After an eight-day search, the rescuers on Monday packed up and left, declaring the search operation abandoned.
Bodies of 48 passengers were recovered from several rivers while 62 are still missing, police said. Three more unidentified bodies were buried yesterday at Shibchar Municipality Graveyard.
Siddique bought the vessel four years ago but had not transferred the vessel to his name. His eldest son Limon and nephew Ratul had been maintaining it.
He claimed that Yeakub Bepary, who had leased the Kanthalbari terminal between Mawa and Kawrakandi terminals, used to force all launches to take 60 to 70 extra passengers with the help of his men at the terminal.
He claimed that Yeakub was affiliated with the BNP but had joined the Awami League after the party assumed power.
He said Yeakub and his men gave the launch owners a very small amount of money in return for carrying the passengers. They even beat up launch staff if they refused to take the passengers, he said.
The Daily Star could not reach Yeakub for his comments.
Sidduque is one of the accused in the case filed soon after the tragedy.
Soon after the capsize, Siddique went into hiding, Mufti Mahmud Khan, director of the legal and media wing of Rab, told reporters at a press briefing yesterday.
He said there had been inadequate safety and security measures in the launch. Even the captain did not have a licence.
According to sources at the Department of Shipping, the fitness (survey) certificate of the Pinak-6 expired on April 30. It secured 45-day provisional fitness tokens three times after that date.
Replying to a query about the arrest of BIWTA officials, the Rab official said they would go for action based on the findings and recommendations of the probe committee.
BIWTA Chairman Shamsuddoha Khandaker yesterday said launch owners, drivers, BIWTA officials concerned and passengers were all responsible for the accident.
"We have suspended Mawa Terminal traffic Inspector Jahangir Alam Bhuiyan for negligence in duty," he said.
Ashish Kumar Dey, chief editor of an online news portal and convener of Nou, Sarak and Railpath Jatiya Rakkha Committee (Water, Roads and Railways National Protection Committee), and Tushar Rehman, secretary general of Citizens Rights Movement, sent the legal notice to the government asking it to remove eight BIWTA officials from their posts within 72 hours.
The eight officials are: BIWTA chairman, its director (water protection and direction department), director (waterways safety and traffic department), director (port department), Mawa river-port official, engineer and shipping surveyor of Mawa area, and inspector and traffic inspector of Mawa-Kawrakandi waterways under BIWTA.