Twenty-six people tragically died in the Padma river in Madaripur on May 3 when a speedboat capsized after crashing into a sand-laden bulk carrier. According to one of the survivors of the crash, the driver was not skilled at manoeuvring the speedboat and was driving haphazardly from the beginning.
Multiple government officials are now saying that speedboat services on this river route are illegal during normal times. Then why was this speedboat running when there is a lockdown in place? Even more alarmingly, the speedboat was not registered and its driver did not even have a licence. According to different government officials, this apparently is the norm, as around 400 speedboats are operating daily on this route, but none of them have any registration or fitness certificates from the government. And the drivers have no institutional training or license. If that is the case and it is so well known, then why are these speedboats being allowed to run on a regular basis? Which government authorities are responsible for overseeing the safety of these vehicles? And why aren't they doing their job?
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) under the Ministry of Shipping is supposed to be responsible for development, maintenance and control of water transport and waterways in the country. Yet, according to its Assistant Director, who is assigned to ensure marine safety and traffic management at Shimulia terminal, his department does not monitor speedboat operations on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route due to a lack of manpower. We would like to know for how long BIWTA has had this acute manpower shortage, and what steps it has taken to solve this problem. Surely, its high officials cannot be sitting around while BIWTA is unable to carry out its responsibilities due to a lack of manpower?
And what about the Coast Guard? Why are speedboats like this able to get away with carrying more people than the boats' capacity, and why are people allowed to get on them without wearing lifejackets? The entire situation reeks of gross mismanagement on the part of the authorities and a complete lack of safety oversight and monitoring by different government agencies.
The authorities have formed a six-member committee to investigate the accident. By now, we all know how that usually turns out: the committee does its job and gives certain recommendations, which are unabashedly ignored by the relevant authorities and we end up back at square one. How long will this continue? How many more lives have to be lost before the authorities responsible for ensuring people's safety are finally held accountable for not doing their designated duty?