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Most of the ships and ferries under the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) are being operated without any fitness certificates. The BIWTC is currently operating a total of 184 water vessels, including ferries, inland passenger ships, waterbuses and coastal sea trucks. Sources with the Department of Shipping (DoS) disclosed that these vessels and ferries are being operated without ensuring any safety parameters as most of the ships and ferries are old and outdated. These vessels are being operated at high risk as they have had no fitness certificates for a long time, one of the sources told this correspondent on condition of anonymity. - A home for your website

The source further said the bottoms of most of these outdated vessels are cracked. As a result, passengers may face a disastrous situation in the middle of river or at sea anytime.

The total fleet of the BIWTC comprises 84 ferries, six steamer and inland ships, four coastal passenger ships, 14 coastal sea trucks, six oil tankers, 12 waterbuses, four container ships and eight tugboats, according to BIWTC sources.

The BIWTC is currently operating rocket steamers viz. PS Ostrich, PS Lepcha, PS Tern, MV Madhumati and MV Bangali once a day (starting at 4pm) from Badamtali Ghat, Sadarghat to Morelganj, the source said.

Sources said most of these steamers were introduced a century ago. They are now considered antiques of Bangladesh.

“It"s true that most of the water vessels operating under BIWTC have no fitness certificate. However, we are operating them after carrying out proper repairs,” BIWTC chairman Pranay Kanti Biswas told The Independent yesterday (Thursday).

He further said although the centurion ships, which are considered antiques, have no fitness, they portray the heritage of Bangladesh.

“We are modernising our fleet with new water vessels by replacing all the old ferries and ships in phases. We are operating these water vessels after carrying out proper investigations to preclude any incident,” Biswas said in reply to a query. When asked about the number of water vessels operating without fitness, the BIWTC chairman replied, “The number may be eight to 10.”

According to Biswas, the rocket steamer service was introduced almost a century ago. These ships are being operated by steam engines that drive paddle-wheels to help the ships move through the water.

Rocket steamers are designed in a way that there is a very rare chance of them sinking, he said, adding the steam engines have been converted into diesel-run engines. Afterwards, these were replaced by electro-hydraulic engines in the mid-1990s with accommodation capacity of 700 to 800 passengers at a time.

“Our officials regularly visit these ships and ferries. It is true that some of the ships that were introduced a century ago have no fitness,” Manjurul Kabir, DoS chief engineer and ship surveyor, told this correspondent. “A 40-year-old ship can"t be operated on inland shipping routes as per the law. But this rule does not apply to BIWTC water vessels as per government decision,” he said in reply to a query.

When asked about the safety of the passengers, he replied, “We just follow the government order. But our officials have been engaged to monitor and survey these water vessels being operated under the BIWTC on a regular basis.” He said he did not know about the total number of water vessels, including ships and ferries, currently operating under the BIWTC without any fitness and registration.