Marine accidents: Escalating concern | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, December 25, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 25, 2009

Marine accidents: Escalating concern

Crowd over roof and in one side of the vessels is menacing.

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IT'S like a haunted region where people's lives are consigned to fate and mass people's deaths are consigned to oblivion. Every year, hundreds of lives are lost in launch disasters and the death tolls are simply archived. This year, MV Koko-4 capsized on November 27, with a high casualty.
News reports revealed some of the crucial issues behind the mishap. There was not enough depth of river as the lion's share of the capsized vessel remained above the waterline. Moreover, the underwater portion of the vessel was inadequate. The launch suffered bottom rupture before it overturned. And the issue of utmost importance was overloading beyond its capacity.
Overloading is disastrous in some cases as it triggers the top-level system failures, like capsizing. Inadequate number of transports, defying rules and regulations, negligence of the authorities and owners' lust for lofty profits are the major factors working behind overloading. Disaster lurks while the problem of overloading is associated with faulty structures, natural cataclysms, inadequate navigability or crowding of people to one side of the vessel.
Crowd over roof is menacing as mass transfer over upper decks profoundly harms the stability of a vessel. Again, crowding to the areas closer to edges of the vessel makes it tilt and may bring disaster.
The problem of structural faults is liable to the investigation approach of the authorities. The design of a ship is submitted to them for approval. But it is hardly investigated whether the construction of a vessel is done following the approved design or not. So the administration should survey the vessels and check the structure with the actual plan. If any fault is detected by the authorities, the vessel may be sent for repairing under the supervision of experts and the cost realised from the owner. Withdrawing the permit of a ship is a negative approach and the people have to suffer for this in return.
Following the same dominoes, accidents are taking place in our country causing heart-tearing casualties for decades, but sadly enough, we remain simply puppet spectators. The capsizing of MV Koko-4 on November 27 also followed the same dominoes and raised a death toll of 76 (according to The Daily Star, December 1, 2009.). She started from Sadarghat with over one thousand passengers on board at 11a.m. and capsized near Bhola mainly due to crowding of people to one side. A large number of people gathered in one side to collect tickets before disembarking, which caused the vessel to tilt due to a mass imbalance in port and starboard sides.
Perhaps we have reached a gridlock. We are likely to be firmly entangled with the tentacles of a gigantic octopus. When we sever a tentacle, we get snared with another. Let us try to illuminate two facts. One is, during Eid, a huge number of people flock to their own regions from Dhaka.
As Dhaka is the core point of almost all national activities, people from all parts of the country come here, especially for employment. During Eid, these people rush to their regions to celebrate the long-awaited festival with their families. This triggers overloading in passenger vessels keeping those vulnerable to accident.
The number of passenger vessels is seemingly too inadequate for the journey of this large number of people. To solve this problem, the number of passenger vessels in some routes should be increased. The second fact is if new vessels are constructed and launched in order to reduce the extra pressure, these will not get enough passengers throughout the year. The system would not be feasible or viable. So it's never easy to escape the problem of overloading because it is intensely raveled with our national policy and socio-economic circumstances. Then there are not sufficient and proper life-supporting appliances for the estimated capacity of the vessels let alone for the overloaded condition.
Let us put the cursor on inadequate navigability which is profoundly caused by an extreme siltation rate in our rivers. Soil erosion due to unplanned construction is a key-factor to the high siltation rate. Alluvial deposition lessens depth of rivers keeping the ships prone to grounding. Severe grounding may produce bottom rupture and subsequent water ingress, which may lead the ship to sinking or capsizing. MV Koko-4 also had bottom rupture and water ingress due to powered grounding, which contributed much to its capsizing.
Here, a point has been skipped. The ground of the littoral areas of a river in our country is usually the soft layer of alluvial deposition. The overloaded launch didn't hit a hard-rock ground but a soft bed of sediments. So, bottom rupture of a launch is unexpected after hitting the ground of a littoral area. It is only possible when the under-water portion is made of impure materials. It may also associate washing away of paint on the surface exposed to water and subsequent corrosion of the surface materials.
Likely to the causes of marine accidents, which follow a common set of dominoes, the aftermath of accidents also follow a common set of dominoes. Print and electronic media keep on publishing or broadcasting news on mishaps, the top authorities convey condolence to the bereaved families, security gets beefed up for one week and so forth. Our compassion for the departed souls and the bereaved families leaps to the peak point when the news on accident is broadcasted. But the wave of emotion meets its trough in the course of two or three days. We are in front of the labyrinth of ways and can't decide what to do.
The paramount step that should be taken by the government to meet the aftermath of an accident is to confirm proper investigation. The owners who allow people to embark vessels, even after exceeding two or three times of their capacity, or run unfit or obsolete vessels vulnerable to capsizing for their covetousness, looking for hefty profits, should not go unpunished. Running of unfit or obsolete vessels is also ensnared with some other issues like paucity of surveyors and corruption in this sector. The ratio of the number of vessels and the number of surveyors is astounding. It is indeed surprising to know that there are very few (less than the fingers in one hand) surveyors who survey more than four thousand vessels annually -- this is quite impossible even for a wizard!
Despite the skein of problems like overloading, faulty structures, lack of navigability and so forth, only one passenger vessel among those running with passengers several times of their capacities during the eve of the Eid, had capsized. The scenario might appear in more diabolical form than we observed. It's high time to gallop with all our might to declassify the evil acts behind the accidents and discard them in order to secure a safe marine transport system.
Mohammad Tanvir Hossain and Subir Das are students, and Zobair Ibn Awal is Assistant Professor, Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, BUET, Dhaka.

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