Frequent breakdowns of decades-old larger ferries, known as ro-ro ferries, are one of the prime reasons for frequent disruptions in ferry services on Paturia-Daulatdia route, which is used by lakhs of residents in the country's 21 south-western districts.
People frequenting the route said while they suffer immensely all year round due to the disruptions, the government is also paying an excessive amount of money on repair cost of the derelict vessels.
Sufferings of commuters could be reduced, while at the same time, the government could save on recurring repair costs if the government stopped repairing the old ro-ro ferries and purchased new ones instead, they also said.
Roll-on/roll off or ro-ro ferries are cargo vessels on which vehicles can be driven on and off on their own wheels.
When contacted, Abdus Sattar, assistant general manager (AGM, marine) at Aricha regional office of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), said "Eleven ro-ro ferries, one K-type (medium-sized) ferry and four utility (small-sized) ferries ply the Paturia-Daulatdia route.
Currently, ro-ro ferries Bir Shreshtha Matiur Rahman, Bir Shreshtha Ruhul Amin and utility ferry Rajanigandha are being repaired at Narayanganj dockyard. After undergoing repair for 10 days at the same dockyard, Bir Shreshtha Hamidur Rahman rejoined the fleet three days ago. And another ro-ro ferry, Shah Enayetpuri, is being repaired at floating dockyard Madhumati near Paturia river terminal.
High officials at the BIWTC headquarters have been informed of the situation, the AGM also said.
According to data made available by BIWTC, ro-ro ferries Shah Jalal and Amanat Shah were built in 1980; Shah Ali and Shah Makhdum in 1985; and Shah Paran and Khan Jahan Ali were made in 1987.
Keramat Ali and Shah Enayetpuri were made in 1989, while Bir Shreshtha Jahangir and Bahasa Shahid Barkat were made in 1993.
Bir Shreshtha Hamidur Rahman and Bir Shreshtha Matiur Rahman were built in 2002; Bir Shreshtha Ruhul Amin in 2012; and Bhasa Sainik Golam Mawla was built in 2015.
Of the 14 ro-ro ferries, 11 ply the Paturia-Daulatdia route and three -- Shah Makhdum, Shah Paran and Shah Enayetpuri ply the Shimulia-Kanthalbari route.
Shah Paran and Shah Enayetpuri were put in service on the Paturia-Daulatdia route after large ferry services on Shimulia-Kanthalbari route had to be postponed due to the poor navigability. The two ferries will be sent back once services at Shimulia-Kanthalbari route resumes.
Among the K-type or medium-sized ferries, Ketoki was built in 1973 and it was refurbished in 1999. Another of the same type, Dhaka, goes out of service frequently.
However, Banalata, Madhobilata, Hasnahena, Shapla-Shaluk, Rajanigandha and Chandra Mollika -- the six utility or smaller ferries, commissioned in 2013, are running quite well, according to BIWTC.
BIWTC Chief Engineer Gafur Sarker said, "According to the rules, ferries under the age of 25 need to be repaired if they break down. If the age is more than 25 years, the ferry has to be replaced. But, it takes Tk 38 to 40 crore to built a ro-ro ferry and a lot of money is needed to build the required number of ro-ro ferries.
"Because of the huge amount of money needed, we are not thinking about building new ro-ro ferries. However, work is underway to build some K-type ferries. Four K-type ferries will be built within the next six months. In addition, some utility ferries are also under construction. Four utility ferries will be added to the ferry route within the next year. The existing problems will be solved after these new small and mid-sized ferries join the routes," he added.