Hours after his arrest today, Abu Bakkar Siddique, the owner of Pinak-6 that sank in the Padma on August 4, blamed the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) officials and lessees of launch ghats (terminals) for the tragedy.
Claiming himself not guilty, Siddique, 60, said it is the BIWTA that controls launch operations 10 days before and after the Eid.
"I am an owner. How can I know the number of passengers getting on my launch? I don't stay at launch ghat…," he said while talking to journalists at the Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) headquarters in Dhaka today.
Rab produced him before journalists at a press conference at its headquarters around 1:30pm.
A joint team from Rab-7 and 11 arrested Siddique at a house in Agrabad Housing area of Chittagong city around 3:30am.
With over 200 passengers, the double-decker vessel, which was on its way to Mawa from Kawrakandi, sank in choppy waters and strong winds in Padma river around 11:00am on August 4.
During the briefing, Commander Mufti Mahmud Khan, director at Legal and Media Wing of Rab, said Siddique went into hiding soon after the capsize. “He stayed at several places in a bid to avert the arrest,” he said.
The Rab official said there were no adequate safety and security measures in the launch, which was manufactured in 1991. Even, the master driver of the launch was driving the vessel without any licence, he added.
“Being influenced by greed, the launch owner was operating the vessel ignoring relevant rules,” he added.
With Tk 11 crore, Bakkar bought the launch around six years back from one Monirujjaman Khokon of Barisal. Since then, Bakkar’s eldest son Md Limon, 27, and nephew Ratul, 23, had been maintaining the vessel, Siddique said.
Siddique, however, claimed that Pinak-6 had all valid documents including the fitness certificate.
Holding the ghat lessees responsible for the incident, Siddique said, “We have to anchor our launches at Bangla Bazar and Kanthalbari ghats after leaving the Kawrakandi terminal. At the ghats, the lessees use to force us for taking passengers beyond the vessels’ capacity.”
“The lessees led by one Yakub Bapari use to force all launches to take about 60 to 70 extra passengers. They give us very small amount of money as fare. The lessees beat up the launch staff if they refused to take the passengers,” he said.
So far, bodies of 48 passengers of the ill-fated launch were recovered from different rivers while 62 are still missing.
After an eight-day search, the rescuers on Monday packed up and left, declaring the search operation abandoned.