AFTER every launch accident, which often takes a heavy toll of human life, the government immediately exhibits promptness, forming multiple high-level probe committees, promising punishment for the responsible persons behind the accident. Without hampering the monotonous trend followed after each of the previous similar incidents, the government formed two probe committees soon after the Pinak-6 accident: a seven-member probe body by the ministry of shipping , and another four-member committee by the Department of Shipping (DoS). The whole investigation was unexpectedly put in an awkward position, when the committee formed by DoS was dissolved, just two days before the submission of report on Pinak-6 incident. However, the other committee by DoS was allowed to work seven more working days, as requested by them, to complete the investigation and submit their report.
It has been reported that over the last four decades more than 800 investigation committees have been formed to investigate over 500 inland waterway incidents, of which only a handful of the report have been made public. Although as per Inland Shipping Ordinance (ISO), 1976, the government forms investigation committee to probe the reasons behind the inland waterways accidents, over the years they are found to be inefficient and ineffective. Actually probe committees in general, have lost their credibility and the general perception about any probe committee is that they are simply an 'eye-wash' to hide the real picture. It is not unusual to find an official from DoS or, BIWTA, involved in a vessel's registration or, survey and fitness checking or, inspecting the launch before the journey at the ghat, was included as a member in the investigation committee of that particular vessel's incident. Due to this inherent weakness in the formation of probe body, impartiality in the findings and in the recommendations of the report prepared by the probe committee, is seriously compromised. On the other hand, concealing the probe committee reports actually help the responsible persons escape punishment. There are plenty of examples where multiple probe committees were formed right after the launch accident, which rather initiates the blame-game among DoS, BIWTA and the ministry of shipping. In most of the instances the accused person or, official escape punishment because of loop-holes in the ISO, 1976, which need to be updated and modernize.
Another major drawback in the formation of probe bodies after an inland waterway disaster is the non-inclusion of experts particularly in the field of naval architecture; as a result the engineering or, technical elements behind any launch accident always remain out of focus. Inclusion of preventive measures to avoid repeated accidents of passenger launches has become a must.Moreover, it is important to have thorough insight into the processes and conditions behind every accident.
Similar to the investigation procedures followed currently in advanced countries, our probe bodies can take assistance from technical experts to simulate or reconstruct the accident scenario using latest engineering software and advanced technologies. Other than computer applications, a well-equipped ship model testing centre (Towing Tank) will also be useful to go for a physical experiment using scaled model of the real ship to identify the technical reasons and recommend engineering solutions to mitigate the problem.
Most of the world's major maritime nations have abandoned the board of inquiry approach for marine accident investigation, although it still remains in a number of countries in the developing world including Bangladesh. The accident investigation approach in the modern world has changed from 'who to blame' to 'how to stop accident'. Currently in many developed countries, similar to UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), the marine accident investigations are being conducted by an independent body comprising of professionals, with a view to identify and understand the cause of marine accidents that will lead to develop preventive strategies. Their objective is to determine how safety on the waterways could be improved. An important feature for modern accident investigation approach is to issue practical recommendations that can effectively prevent the recurrence of accidents. For a recommendation to produce positive results, it must be affordable to the majority of the interest groups. Should the recommendation yield a costly change, some of the interest groups may be unable to meet the financial requirements. Thus the success of any safety recommendation can be judged by how conveniently it accommodates the interest groups. To accomplish that target investigators must consider cost as well as the time necessary to implement the changes. Actually, the investigators must use their intelligence and expertise to make a compromise between cost and time to create the most practical recommendation.
The government must go for a major overhaul in the formation of probe bodies to investigate launch accidents. Since launch disaster is one of our long-lasting problems, government should also consider formation of an independent investigation board. However, to prevent frequent launch accidents on our waterways, government must give emphasis to implement the valuable recommendations made by the probe bodies. Finally, it is the time to move towards a professional launch accident investigation and to develop a system that would be much more responsive and appropriate for the 21st century.
The writer is Professor Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). E-mail: email@example.com