Being a riverine country and having a huge population, inland shipping which carries passengers and goods is a great source of economy in Bangladesh. As the mode of transportation is very popular, it requires a greater management system as so many risk factors lie within the transportation.
The risk becomes evident from the records of inland shipping casualties as almost every year the country faces the loss of lives and damages of goods due to inland vessels’ accidents. To govern the inland shipping including the registry and other functioning, there are different governing bodies under the ministry of shipping which control, monitor and regulate the system.
However, the question has always been there whether the system is sufficient enough to keep the inland marine transportation safe and regulate properly. Considering the news reports, it is known to all that every year the country witnesses lots of inland shipping casualties caused by negligence and reckless attitude of the vessel masters, owners and the people who are involved in monitoring the transportations directly.
Reportedly, around 5,500 people died from the year 1994 to 2004 due to the vessel accidents in Bangladesh as a result of several reasons such as overloading, lack of efficiency, machinery breakdown, storm, faulty design and construction of vessels, inadequate navigational and radio equipment, unsafe river route, lack of vessel fitness, collision, lack of qualification and experience of crews, lack of monitoring and absence of exemplary trial and punishment (Cdr Kaosar Rashid, (E), psc, BN, and Major Muhammad Rabiul Islam, Ph.D., EME, AIP Conference Proceedings 1919, 020036 (2017)).
These are only some of the factors initiating these deadly accidents. The reasons were identified from a study report where the study was conducted based on the cases of Capsize of MV SALAHUDDIN-2, Capsize of MV NASRIN, Capsize of MV KOKO 4, Capsize of MV-Shariatpur-1, and Capsize of MV PINAK-6.
The scenario of the passenger-carrying vessels is direr than those carrying goods or properties/cargo vessels. Due to a lack of awareness and loopholes in legal provisions, the legal representatives of the deceased’s or the victims themselves do not bring any action against the vessel owners or the wrongdoer. Even if someone brings the issue to the concerned authorities, the burden of proving the liability of the shipowner and other concerned parties becomes a forlorn dream due to lengthy court proceedings.
Looking into the governing system of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, the Department of Shipping (DOS) under the Ministry of Shipping is responsible for the maritime safety administration of Bangladesh chargeable for the formulation and implementation of the national policies and legislations to confirm the security of life and ships confounded, development of shipping industry, maritime education and certification, employment and welfare of seafarers and other shipping-related matters.
The department is additionally chargeable for ensuring the compliance of international conventions regarding maritime matters. Thus, the Department of Shipping plays a vital role in implementing the laws involving Inland Shipping as its functions are administered per two main legal instruments: The Bangladesh Merchant Shipping Ordinance 1983 and also the Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 (the Ordinance).
Under the power vested by the government of Bangladesh, DOS is responsible to ensure the safety of vessels. To do this job, it has the following responsibilities to adhere to (a) Approval of vessel design; (b) Registration of new vessels constructed or imported from abroad; (c) Annual vessel fitness survey; (d) Examination and issuing competency certificates to vessels crews and Implementation of safety rules. These powers and responsibilities are vested upon the director-general of the DOS under the Ordinance and there is a legal wing under the Director-General of DOS comprising of Marine court and Mobile court.
Considering the Ordinance, from the wordings of section 47 it can be drawn here that Marine Court constituted under the ordinance has the competence to try the offenses punishable under the Ordinance as mentioned under section 46 (1), the Government may direct the District Magistrate or the Upazilla Nirbahi Officer or the officer holding inquiry under sub-section (1) or sub-section (3) of section 45, as the case may be, to submit, for trial, a statement of the case to (a) a court of the Magistrate of the first class having jurisdiction at the place where the casualty occurred; or (b) a Marine Court constituted under section 47.
According to section 48 of the Ordinance, the Marine Court possesses the same power as the Court of Magistrate of first-class vested under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. Furthermore, as per section 49 of the Ordinance, the procedure for trial under the abovementioned courts shall follow as nearly as may be the procedure for summary trials under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898. At present, there is only one Marine Court in Bangladesh for dealing with issues related to shipping casualties.
In the year of 2015, the former shipping minister mentioned that the government plans to create four more marine courts to monitor the identification of violations by marine vessels and shipyards that will help prevent accidents. However, even after the expiry of the said five years no such steps have been taken by the authorities since there is still a single marine court and that too is situated in Dhaka, which can be considered to be another problem impeding the role of the court as often it is difficult to bring the alleged wrongdoers to the court due to time constraints or distance issues.
The sources from DOS also refer that the number of registered vessels navigating in the inland waterways is about 10,000 whereas the actual number of vessels is ten times higher than the registered ones. Thus, it is high time to extend the number of Marine courts to make the inland shipping safe.
*About the author: Sabrina Hasan, PhD Program Student, South China Sea Institute, Xiamen University
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