With less than two weeks left for Eid-ul-Fitr, rundown and faulty launches are being refurbished and repaired to sail on river routes across the country during the huge rush of holidaymakers, endangering hundreds of lives.

At least 30 defective launches are getting a quick facelift with cosmetic repairs at various dockyards in Keraniganj on the outskirts of the city aiming to make a fast buck by carrying passengers of 22 southern districts during the Eid festival.

Experts said the condition of most of the rivers before the Eid may become risky with the possibility of nor'westers, strong current and gusty winds due to the influence of new moon as the passenger launch accidents in the country's inland waterways happen at this time mainly for overloading of passengers, faulty vessels, risky competition, mismanagement and lack of trained, skilled and competent crews.

They said the government must take strict measures to check the operation of unfit and faulty vessels and overloading and ensure adequate fire safety and lifesaving equipment in each launch to avoid any untoward incident during the mad rush of passengers at launch terminals ahead of the Eid.

Meanwhile, National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways (NCPSRR) in a report on Tuesday last said the Sadarghat terminal will witness an unusual pressure as 40 lakh people from three districts--Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj--are likely to travel to the coastal districts by launches during this Eid occasion.

It also said there are not enough vessels to carry so many one-way passengers in just 12 days, cautioning that the launches can carry passengers beyond their capacity on decks and roofs during the season of natural disasters like nor'westers and storms.

Visiting various dockyards in Keraniganj on the outskirts of the city, UNB correspondents found over 30 launches undergoing facelifts.

It was seen that repair works were going on various launches, including Adventure-1, MV Prince Awlad-5, MV Jamal-9, MV Farhan-2, Bogdadia-7, Bogdadia-9, Mayur-2, Kajal-7, Parabat-9, Parabat-10, Parabat-11, MV Rajhangsa-7, Glory of Srinagar and MV Lamia.

Abdul Karim, a worker of a dockyard, said many launch owners started bringing their vessels to the dockyards for refurbishment and repairing even before Ramadan hoping they will get adequate passengers during this Eid unlike the last two years as the Covid situation is now normal.

He said every dockyard is now going through a busy time by overhauling and painting the old and faulty vessels.

Karim, however, said the owners only want to carry out small and cosmetic repairing and good painting of their launches so that they can operate those during the festival occasion even taking risks with some problems.

A Barishal bound three-storey run-down launch MV Prince Awlad was seen overhauling at Lucky Dockyard. Some workers were working on the inside floors of the vessel while others are busy applying a new coat of paint to the launch.

Abu Taher, a dockyard worker, said they would complete necessary repair works and painting within a week. "So, we have to work almost round the clock. There were various problems with the launch and we've already fixed those."

Hiru, the supervisor of the launch, said they brought the vessel for the reaping work of its body and plate alongside the painting. "We'll operate the launch to carry passengers before and after the Eid."

Another worn-out Barishal-bound launch Adventure-1 was also being refurbished and painted at another dockyard. Many parts of the launch have been replaced to make it ready for operation.

Talking to UNB, NCPSRR General Secretary Ashis Kumar Dey said the way some old and ill-equipped vessels are hurriedly repaired and given a facelift, it will increase the risk of accidents in the waterways during the busy time of Eid.

"We have long been urging the government to stop this practice, but the authorities concerned didn't pay heed to it. The launch owners can manage fitness certificates in connivance with the officials concerned," he alleged.

Ashis said though the government is talking about conducting mobile courts and increasing the vigilance of law enforcers to stop plying unfit vessels and overcrowding, it will not be able to do that due to the maddening rush of home goers.

Besides, he said around 85 launches ply on 33 different routes from Sadarghat every day. "This inadequate number of vessels can't carry around 40-lakh one-way passengers on the Eid occasions. So, the launch owners will try to carry passengers several times beyond their capacity. It has to be checked."

"It's a season of nor'westers and storms and thunderstorms. Most of the river routes will be risky for sailing during the rush of holidaymakers because of monsoon rain, strong current, ebb and flow influenced by the upcoming new moon. So, if we can't stop excessive overloading of passengers and operation of unfit vessels, there'll be a strong risk of accidents during this Eid occasion," the expert warned.

Contacted, Additional IGP of River Police Md Shafiqul Islam said they will coordinate with other law enforcement agencies to ensure that no unfit vessel can operate and no vessel can carry extra passengers. "Mobile courts will be conducted to this end."

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