Residents of the Manpura upazila, an island in the Meghna estuary under the Bhola district, have been endangering their own lives by using unsafe water transportation after a suspension of the sea-truck service in March.
The suspension was imposed by the Sea Transport Directorate under the Shipping Ministry from March 15 to October 15, banning passenger-carrying water transports, including launches and trawlers, from operating on the risky water routes around the estuary and the coastal areas in the southern region. The suspension has been enforced every year since June 18, 2000.
The restriction is in place because of storms like cyclones and Nor’westers during the monsoon season, said Abul Bashar Majumder, deputy director of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTC) Barisal office.
“Water transport is the main mode of transport in that region, and using them during the monsoon can put the travellers’ lives at risk during a storm,” he said.
Abdul Jalil, captain of sea truck ST Shaheed Sheikh Jamal, said his vessel had been approved by the BIWTC to operate on the Manpura-Tajumuddin route and started carrying passengers on March 19. But it broke down on April 5 for the first time.
“After it was repaired, it resumed service on April 22, only to break down again two weeks later,” he said.
Md Sifat, engine driver of the ST Shaheed Sheikh Jamal, said the vessel needed complete servicing and both the engines needed to be repaired.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, secretary of the Manpura Traders’ Association, alleged that owners of the unauthorised water transports were earning Tk20,000-30,000 every day by commuting on the route using their malfunctioning vessels.
“They are paying Tk4,000-5,000 every day to the lessee and staff of the ST Shaheed Sheikh Jamal as a bribe to remain out of business,” he claimed.
Nuruddin, the lessee of the sea truck, denied the allegations and said he was incurring a loss as BIWTC has placed a dilapidated vessel in his authority.
Abdullah Al Baqi, upazila nirbahi officer of Manpura, said the lessee often blamed the run-down engines of the sea truck for the disruption of service and BIWTC authority has been asked to provide a replacement immediately.
Amir Hossain, vice president of the local Hazirhut Traders’ Association, said Manpura residents are virtually isolated, detached from other parts of the country due to the shortage of safe water transportation.
Acknowledging the acute shortage of BIWTC-approved vessels for the perilous route, Gopal Chandra Majumdar, assistant manager at the BIWTC’s Barisal office, said they are trying to replace the out-of-order sea truck on the Manpura route, soon.
Nazrul Islam, assistant engineer at the BIWTC, stressed on immediate sanctioning of fund and tender invitations to start the vessel’s repair work.
Shahinur Bhuiyan, director (finance) of the BIWTC, said the BIWTC has been earning only Tk4.56 lakh every year by leasing out the sea truck on the Manpura route, but repair work and management costs of the vessel will take around Tk8-9 lakh, so an investigation is needed before funds are sanctioned.
However, Nurul Alam Akhand, deputy general manager (commercial), assured that they will resume the sea truck’s operations connecting Manpura to the mainland soon.