The workers of all cargo carriers plying the inland waterways across the country launched an indefinite strike yesterday after seven people aboard a fertiliser-laden lighter vessel went missing in Laxmipur the night before following what they said a robbery.
Though police claimed that it was an incident of internal fighting among the crew, they could not confirm what actually happened. Ten people were on board MV Karnaphuli-5, when it was headed towards Baghabari from Chittagong on Friday night. Three were rescued.
After the news spread, the lighter vessel workers at Chittagong Port and 16 private jetties of the Karnaphuli River stopped working, demanding security on the inland waterways which, the strikers said, is infested with frequent robbery, extortion.
The strike gradually spread to other parts of the country including Mongla and Narayanganj, and by the afternoon, around three lakh workers of 20,000 cargo carriers including lighter vessel, coaster vessel, bulkhead, tanker, and barge, in the country joined it, said Chowdhury Ashikul Alam, general secretary of Bangladesh Noujan Sramik Federation.
He said the strike, which brought to a halt the transportation of cargo by river all over the country, would continue until the rescue of the seven.
Ashikul said robbery and extortion were common but police hardly cared about their safety. The strike is an outburst of their grievances, he told The Daily Star.
The protest started off at the outer anchorage of Chittagong Port at 8:00am, said a staff of Water Transport Cell, a private organisation that coordinates lighter vessels.
Md Humayun Kabir, officer-in-charge of Kamalnagar Police Station in Laxmipur, said it was not a case of robbery but an internal clash between the crew and workers of MV Karnaphuli-5.
Locals found the vessel abandoned around 4:00am yesterday when hit a parked ship in Batirkhal area in Kamalnagar, he told The Daily Star by phone.
The OC said they found two workers, Mahbub, 52, and Jahidul Islam, trapped in the cabin, which was locked from outside. Meanwhile, police from Char Alexander rescued another worker, Parvez, 30, who jumped into the river with a buoy after the "clash" started, he said.
Parvez told The Daily Star by phone that he suddenly heard a noise while in the engine room in the evening and saw two workers, Shamim and Titu, were beating up "some people".
Fearing attack, he jumped into the river and swam 40 minutes before being rescued by a trawler, he said, adding that there were 10 people including nine crew members and workers and a friend of Shamim on board the vessel.
Quoting Parvez, OC Kabir said two crew members had been in conflict with Shamim and Titu since Titu beat up and drove away the cook of the vessel on October 31 and replaced him another cook of their choice.
He, however, said everything would be revealed after knowing the fate of the missing seven.