Lighted buoys floated, ferries to be upgraded, operators to be under army surveillance
The Padma Bridge is not just a mere construction project but a symbol of hope and progress for a developing country like Bangladesh.
The mega project is expected to boost the country's GDP by 1.2% once it opens for public use, which is likely next year.
However, as unfortunate as it sounds, the pier caps of the bridge have been hit by ferries on different occasions in the recent past, the latest being on August 13.
Although the collisions did not cause any infrastructural damage to the dream bridge, such repeated incidents do raise a lot of questions, speculations and fears.
Following these recent developments, the government was forced to take several measures to ensure the protection of the Padma Bridge.
A high-level meeting – attended by Shipping Ministry and Padma Bridge officials – was held on the night of the latest ferry collision incident to determine procedures to protect the bridge’s piers from collision with ferries.
Then on Sunday, a lighted buoy was floated 3km south of spans 12 and 13 of the Padma Bridge to help ferries avoid colliding with the piers while passing under the bridge.
The move came following a meeting between Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Bangladesh Inland Water Transport and Communication (BIWTC), Bangladesh Armed Forces, and the Bridge Authority.
Individuals who attended the Shipping Ministry meeting, seeking anonymity, said that as the Padma Bridge would be opened for public use by next year, the pressure on ferries would decrease dramatically.
Commenting on the proposal to relocate the Banglabazar ferry terminal to Majhirkandi ghat of Zajira in Shariatpur, they said: “It will involve a large sum of money to shift the terminal to a new place. At the same time, the relocation process will be quite lengthy.”
According to experts, ferries from Banglabazar to Shimulia face a strong current immediately after passing through the Hajra channel just 1.3km away from the bridge. As a result of the current, it is difficult to control ferries on the turn and this has led to multiple collisions in the recent past. They observed that due to the construction of the bridge, the current of the river changed during the rainy season.
A top official of the Shipping Ministry told Dhaka Tribune, “We have left the ferry issue on this route to the Bridge Authority, and they will decide when and how we can operate ferries on this route around the Padma Bridge,”
When contacted, BIWTC Chairman Syed Md Tajul Islam said: “To protect the bridge, we will operate a very limited number of ferries on the Shimulia-Banglabazar route in Munshiganj.
“Only five of our latest ferries will be operational this season. We suggest that all use the Paturia-Daulatdia route more.”
“We have also floated lighted buoys to help ferry operators navigate better under the bridge,” the BIWTC chief added.
Tajul Islam said that the Bangladesh Army would have all the information regarding ferry operators and would also bring them under surveillance with speedboats when necessary.
Also Read - Ferry ploughs into Padma Bridge pillar, again
“A powerful tugboat will be available near the Padma Bridge to help the ferries as well.
“We have also instructed the ferries to immediately drop anchor whenever the weather turns bad,” he added.
Last week, a ferry once again slammed into a pillar of the under-construction Padma Bridge, just four days after a similar incident had taken place.
According to people familiar with the matter, the ferry named Kakoli lost control due to strong currents and hit the pillar instead of coming through pillars number 11 and 12.
The incident occurred just hours before State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury’s scheduled visit to the Shimulia-Banglabazar waterway.
Following the incident, he visited the Padma Bridge area and the Majhikandi ghat in Madaripur at around 10am.
At the end of the visit, he said although there was no significant structural damage, the repeated incidents of ferries colliding into the Padma Bridge were quite jarring.
Earlier, inquiries were initiated and operators were suspended over similar incidents on July 23 and August 9.