Both water vehicles were unfit and had no registration. The drivers did not have any licences either. A probe found the accident happened because an unskilled driver was operating the speedboat.
Demands for speedboats have been increasing along various water routes including haors and coastal areas to travel to long-distance destinations in a short time.
There is no institutional training for the drivers operating speedboats in various waterways. Even a major portion of these drivers are underage.
Several speedboat drivers, however, received training recently.
Why had the drivers not been compelled to receive certificates yet? In reply to this query, chief engineer of the shipping department Md Manjurul Kabir told Prothom Alo a certificate for a speedboat driver is mandatory in accordance with the 1976 Inland Shipping Ordinance. But certificates were not granted as the drivers did not apply for these.
Manjurul Kabir said the shipping department has taken initiative to issue registration and fitness certificates for speedboats and certificates for divers. He blamed the lack of coordination among the government agencies concerned including Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) for failing to control the movement of speedboats.
On providing licence to speedboat drivers, chief inspector of shipping department Md Shafiqur Rhaman said a crash programme has been taken up to provide certificates to drivers across the country.
According to the shipping department sources, 136 speedboats were brought under registration and survey after the accident in Banglabazar. Some 198 people received certificates in Mawa and Aricha after practical and viva examinations following a one-day workshop.
Those who have operated speedboat for 3-4 years have been instructed to submit a recommendation letter from their owners. And, 110 drivers took tests in Barishal.
Salauddin Ahmed, lessee of Shimula jetty, mentioned a reason for drivers’ unwillingness to receive certificate. He said that, to obtain a certificate a driver is required a clearance from the director general of the Department of Narcotics Control and they have to face hassle for this. That's why, drivers are not willing to receive the certificate, he said.
President of ship owners’ organisation Coastal Marine Officers Association Wezul Islam told Prothom Alo, to date there is no separate training for speedboat drivers in the country. People learn speedboat driving by with the help of the experienced drivers. Separate course can be launched for the drivers, he added.
Visiting the DC jetty of Barishal in the evening recently, Bhola-bound speedboats were seen waiting for passengers. People from the jetty said these speedboats move riskily on waterways in the dark of the night. A speedboat driver signals another driver with a torch or the light of a mobile phone.
An inspector of the shipping department, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo lack of adequate watercrafts and manpower are the main obstacle to taking action against illegal water vehicles and drivers. Besides, local influential politicians are involved with speedboat business so legal action cannot be taken against those political leaders all the time even if the officials want do so, the official added.
Prothom Alo staff correspondents in Cox’s Bazar, Barishal and Bhirab and correspondents in Munshiganj, Shariatpur, Bhola, Patuakhali, Narsingdi and Rangamati contributed to the report.
This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna