Irregularities all the way
The entire process-- from approving vessels' designs to issuance of the registration documents-- is not done in a transparent way in the absence of proper monitoring, said a government probe report recently.
Monitoring during the construction and annual fitness surveys of the vessels are not conducted in an accountable manner as well, according to the report on the Pinak-6 disaster submitted on September 14 by a committee of the shipping ministry.
The Daily Star got a copy of the report recently.
Such a lax government monitoring paves the way for faulty and unfit vessels to ply the river, resulting in frequent accidents in which hundreds die, say experts.
The ministry had formed the committee after unfit passenger vessel Pinak-6 capsized in the Padma river on August 4, killing over a hundred passengers on board.
When Pinak-6 capsized, it was carrying over 200 passengers even though it had the capacity of only 85. Overloading and incompetence of the master (pilot) were responsible for the tragedy, the report said.
According to law, a surveyor has to check 21 issues while conducting any vessel's annual fitness survey.
But a surveyor on average takes not more than 20 minutes to check all the issues, said the report. "Twenty-minute is not enough to check these 21 issues. So, it can be understood the examinations and surveys in most of the cases are not done properly."
Taking advantage of the “loopholes” in the government monitoring, many faulty and unfit vessels are hitting the rivers, Mir Tareque Ali, professor of Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering of BUET, told The Daily Star.
"The number of accidents in the river can be reduced, if the faults in design approvals and fitness surveys can be checked," he said.
The surveyors in many cases issue illegal 45-day temporary fitness certificates (token) to vessels after the annual fitness certificates expire.
Such violation of the rule has become a common practice, the probe report said, adding such things must be restricted for passenger safety.
The surveyor of Pinak-6, which had a major flaw in its engine, had allowed the vessel to travel with temporary fitness certificate thrice—the first and third for 45 days each and the second one for 30 days, the report said.
The Department of Shipping on Sunday suspended the surveyor, Mirza Saifur Rahman, for his illegally issuing the operating permit.
The probe report also highlighted different irregularities regarding issuance of registration and fitness certificate to Pinak-6.
The ill-fated launch was first registered with the DoS in 1991 with the name ML Bismillah-2.
But no document regarding the vessel's annual fitness survey could be found for 11 years from 1992. In 2003, the then ship surveyor of Barisal port gave new registration documents to the vessel.
The vessel's name was changed as ML Ruposhi-2 in 2006 after its owner changed and it obtained a fitness certificate for that year later.
In 2007, the name of the launch was changed again. This time it was named ML 'Pinak-6'. But, no document regarding its annual fitness survey could be found for the next three years from 2007.
Although, the vessel completed its annual fitness surveys from 2011 to 2013, its fitness certificate expired on April 30 this year.
Later, the then ship surveyor of Dhaka port Mirza Saifur Rahman illegally issued temporary permissions to the vessel thrice in between April 28 to July 23 this year.
Department of Shipping (DoS) Director General Commodore M Zakiur Rahman admitted “some limitations” in the surveys and registration processes “due to lack of manpower.”
He said, currently, there are only four ship surveyors to check around 10,000 vessels operating in the inland waterways.
"We are trying to increase the number of our ship surveyors and inspectors," he said.