Bangladesh is a riverine country, so the IWT sector is playing a significant role in transportation of passengers, goods and vehicles at a cheaper cost across the country, said Mojibor Rahman, Chairman, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC), in an exclusive interview with The Guardian. The Chairman further said that the sector has a strong contribution to the economic development of the country, by carrying 9% of passengers and 18% of cargo out of the total passengers and cargo carried in the country.
In this context, the BIWTC Chairman, who is also an Additional Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh, mentioned that the BIWTC still plays a leading role in IWT sector of Bangladesh after liberation though: the private operators are currently playing some notable roles with the public operator.
In reply to a question, the Chairman said that after starting its journey in 1972, BIWTC was providing services with the age-old and dilapidated vessels since at that time there was no private sector in the river transportation. He informed us that BIWTC’s development porgramme is emphasized on procurement of new vessels, rehabilitation and modernization of old vessels for providing efficient service in the public sector.
He also informed us that BIWTC as a government organization is in need of future development in its fleet because about 50% vessels of its fleet have crossed their economic life.
At present, considering its age-old fleet, changed scenario of passenger and cargo services, expansion of several new ferry routes, considering non-navigability, disaster risk, capacity development, considering rapid development of road connectivity and development of ICT at inland container terminal, Pangaon, Dhaka and container carrying facilities through waterway. BIWTC is now implementing a number of development projects across the country- he also informed.
In reply to another question, the Chairman said that to materialize the dream of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for making Digital Bangladesh and to implement Vision-2021, as a partner of the government BIWTC has already introduced digital system into its activities i.e. e-mail, uses of LAN, uses of VTS (Vessel Tracking System) in vessels etc. Accounting works is also running on software basis, E-mail and other computerized devices are actively operated in BIWTC and all other necessary trainings in computer affairs are being given to BIWTC officers and staff in this regard.
Attempt has already been made to implement E-ticketing system in BIWTC ferry and passenger services.
In an exclusive interview, BIWTC Chairman, Mr. Mojibor Rahaman, who is also a highly experienced Civil Servant, replied to several questions covering entire activities, achievements, contributions, ongoing development programmes, problems and future plans of BIWTC, including different issues concerned with the development of IWT sector of Bangladesh. His deliberations are quite interesting, informative and educative as well and expose a class picture about the activities of the organization. The excerpts of his valuable interview are presented here for The Guardian readers at home and abroad:
The Guardian: Please give us a brief introduction to the founding history of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC)?
Chairman: BIWTC was established in 1972 under Presidential Order No. 28 as a service oriented commercial organization. Since then BIWTC has been playing a vital role in the socio-economic development efforts of the nation by carrying passengers, cargo and vehicles in the IWT sector of the country. Moreover, as part of its Public Service Obligations (PSO) it is rendering services as per Government’s directives by connecting the offshore islands in the Bay of Bengal with the mainland of the country.
You know during liberation war, the overall infrastructure of communication system of the country in transportation of food grains, POL, essential imported goods, other cargoes, vehicles and passengers was affected and damaged. Under the circumstances, after liberation of Bangladesh, the government felt it necessary to rebuild and rehabilitate the disrupted transport system for easy and safe transportation in both inland and coastal areas by establishing a government water transport organization Accordingly, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) was established in the public sector by the government in 1972, merging the then East Pakistan Inland Water Transport Corporation, the only government organization with other 9 private shipping companies.
The Guardian: Would you mention the major functions of BIWTC in a nutshell?
Chairman: The BIWTC performs a lot of functions. The major functions are as follows:
a. To provide service for safe transportation of passenger and cargo in inland and coastal waterways.
b. To provide service for transportation of vehicles in the waterways.
c. To operate safe transport services for transportation of passenger and cargo between mainland and offshore inlands.
d. To provide services in the uneconomic routes as Public Service Obligation (PSO).
e. To render any other emergency services at time of national needs.
f. To maintain dockyard and repair and renovation of vessels engaged in the above mentioned activities.
g. To facilitate tourism activities.
h. To provide transportation services for inter-country trade.
i. To provide disaster assistance.
The Guardian: In this context, would you give us an idea about various units of BIWTC and their activities?
Chairman: With the aim of transforming BIWTC into a commercial viable organization, in accordance with the strategic plan of the IDA proposed IWT-111 Project, BIWTC has been transformed unit basis organization and it is performing its activities with the following units.
1) Ferry Service Unit
2) Passenger Service Unit
3) Cargo Service Unit
4) Ship Repair Service Unit
The activities of all these units are categorically mentioned here.
Ferry Service Unit:
BIWTC is providing day/night ferry services in the following routes to connect northern and southern regions with the eastern region of the country by bridging the road gaps:
Patreia-Doulatdia – 3 km
The above ferry services are being provided by ferry fleet unit, where remain different kinds of ferry like Ro-Ro ferries, Utility ferries, K-type Ferries, Dumb Ferries etc. The particulars of vessels under this unit as on 11.07.2013 are as follows:
Ro Ro Ferry : 13
K-type Ferry :10
Dumb Ferry : 08
Medium Ferry : 04
Utility Ferry : 02
Small Ferry : 02
Total : 39
Table: Number of vehicles and passengers carried by the Ferry Service Unit during the last 4 years
Passenger Service Unit
BIWTC is responsible for operation of passenger services both in inland water routes and in the coastal area and offshore island of the country which offshore islands are inhabited by crores of people and are also growing populous day by day. Waterway is the only communication media for the people of the region for carrying their day to day socio-economic activities. But till today no proper passenger service could have been opened in this area by the private sector.
As such the responsibility for operation of the passenger vessels in the region has been vested upon BIWTC for a long time on behalf of the government as a Public Service Obligation (PSO).
Passenger service unit is mainly engaged in carrying passengers in the inland waterways, coastal areas and offshore islands. Vessels of this unit are plying in the following routes.
Inland Route: Dhaka-Khulna Rocket Service
Coastal Route: Chittagong-Swndip-Hatya Steamer Service
Kumira-Guptachara LCT Service
Hatiya-Charbata Seatruck Service
Charchanga-Charbata Seatruck Service
Monpura-Shasigong Seatruck Service
Barishal Seatruck Service
Teknaf-Sentmartin Tourist Seatruck Service.
With a view to serve and supply quality foods to the traveling passengers BIWTC has its catering services in most of the passenger and ferry vessels. This service also generates a good income for the organization. In BIWTC’s steamers service, English dishes, smooked Eilsha Fish provides for the tourist and traveling passengers as and when necessary.
Cargo Service Unit
Different categories of vessels such as coasters, tanker, self-propelled barges, inland and bay crossing barges and tugs are there under cargo service unit. The vessels of this unit carry various types of cargo in the inland and coastal waterways, importable and exportable from the two seaports, Chittagong and Mongla. Cargo service unit also engages its vessels for carrying cargo under inter-country trade protocol between Kolkata in India and Bangladesh. Vessels of this unit are plying in the following routes:
Ship Repair Service Unit (SRS Unit)
Under ship repair service unit there are 4 dockyards and floating dock located at Narayanganj for repair and maintenance of Corporation’s own vessels. To make the dockyard a profit centre, steps have been taken to undertake repair works of private vessels also.
For attending emergency repair works facilities are also available at Paturia, Mawa, Khulna, Barisal, Cittagong, Chandpur and Bhola.
There is a Fibre Glass Factory under this unit which produces quality products such as speed boat, hull, helmet and various types of household furniture.
The Guardian: Would you discuss the significance of waterways in Bangladesh since ours is a riverine country?
Chairman: Of course, Bangladesh is riverine country. Hence, IWT sector is playing a significant role in transportation of passengers, goods and vehicles at a cheaper cost across the country. The sector has a strong contribution to the economic development of the country. IWT sector is carrying 9% of passengers and 18% of cargo out of the total passengers and cargo carried in the country.
The Guardian: In this context, would you assess the present role of BIWTC?
Chairman: BIWTC still plays a leading role in IWT sector. After liberation in 1972, when the road and Rail communication was totally disrupted then the organization carried significant amount of food grains, POL, etc. Gradually, the private operators come to plying cargo vessels and passenger vessels alongside the public operator. As result, the scope of BIWTC for carrying cargo has reduced. But BIWTC’s passenger ships is still providing services as the most safe and dependable passenger services. Over and above, BIWTC is efficiently and diligently providing ferry services in the major river gaps thus playing significant role to established uninterrupted road communication. Besides BIWTC’s vessels is maintaining the daily communication facilities in the coastal belt under Public Service Obligation (PSO) since no private operators came for operating their vessels.
Though the private operators are currently playing some notable role with the public sector, but BIWTC’s position in all aspects is number 1.
The Guardian: Would you discuss the various problems of BIWTC and suggest some remedies?
Chairman: After starting its journey in 1972, BIWTC was providing services with the age-old and dilapidated vessels. BIWTC as a government organization is in need of future development in its fleet because about 50% vessels of its fleet have crossed their economic life.
Currently, BIWTC’s development porgramme is emphasized on procurement of new vessels, rehabilitation and modernization of old vessels for providing efficient service in the public sector.
Due to shortage of necessary financing in ADP BIWTC is now implementing its development project by using its own resources. If more fund will be available in ADP, fleet development will be easier.
Besides BIWTC is trying to reduce its expenditure and increase its earnings by taking several measures in the operational activities. You know fuel cost is the main operation at cost. Hence we are trying to reduce this cost at a significant level.
You’ll be glad to know that at present, considering its age-old fleet, changed scenario of passenger and cargo services, expansion of several new ferry routes, considering non-navigability, disaster risk, capacity development, considering rapid development of road connectivity and development of ICT at inland container terminal, Pangaon, Dhaka and container carrying facilities through waterway. BIWTC is now implementing a number of development projects across the country- he also informed.
The Guardian: As a matter of age-old BIWTC fleet still plying in deep sea, would you give your reaction to the say that according to marine law those ships should have been stopped long ago?
Chairman: Yes, BIWTC’s passenger ships playing in coastal areas are age-old.
We have 4 ships for playing in Sea area. Out of them, 3 are built in 1964 and the rest one is built in China in 2002. Among the first three, rehabilitation of two (MV. Abdul Matin and MV. Monirul Hoque) has been carried out during 2007-2009 considering the poor technical condition of these vessels. After rehabilitation, they are fit for providing services for another decade.
Construction or Procurement of coastal ships is more capital intensive. Due to fund constraint after 2002 addition of new passenger vessel for coastal belt is not possible. BIWTC has no alternative but to provide services with this age old vessels because of shortage of vessel.
You will be glad to know that development project for construction of 2 new passenger ship at the total cost of Tk.55.00 crore is now lying in the Planning Commission for necessary approval. After construction of new vessels the old must be scrapped off.
The Guardian: In this context, would you give your reaction to how two 50-60-years old ships, MV Abdul Matin and MV Monirul Hoque, remain still plying in high-tide deep water route of the Bay of Bengal from Chittagong to Sandwip-Hatya-Barisal?
Chairman: Most probably, you’ve already been answered. About your question I can add that inspite of all these, vessels those are now playing in the coastal belt is able to provide safe and dependable journey to the coastal people compared to engine driven country boat, private trawler etc. Till now, not a single accident occurred there. This is one of the main success lies with BIWTC.
Another point, we are not operating only the age old fleet. 12 Nos. Sea-Trucks are constructed and procured during 2000-2009. The capacity of these Sea-trucks is 200 passengers. They are providing services in between the different islands.
Right, you are. MV Abdul Matin and MV Monirul Hoque have been operating from Chittagong to Sandwip-Hatya-Barisal for the last 50-60 years renders service by connecting the offshore islands in the Bay of Bengal with the mainland of the country. But, you have already come to know that a number of development projects are being implemented by BIWTC. In those projects, these two ships are there and already developed and duly plying in the route.
The Guardian: Please mention the names of different development projects undertaken for implementation or being implemented currently.
Chairman: The following projects are taken for implementations under ADP.
The Guardian: Would you tell us something about the achievements during the tenure of the present government towards the development of BWTC as well as the development of inland waterway of Bangladesh?
Chairman: During the last four years, some remarkable achievements have taken place in BIWTC services and facilities that have ultimately influenced the development of inland waterway of Bangladesh. This has been possible only because of cordial initiative of the present government. Some of those achievements are categorically mentioned here.
1. At the cost of Tk. 18.12 crore, passengers carrying two ships MV Abdul Matin and MV Monirul Hoque, have been repaired, redeployed and running well for carrying passengers in the costal routes of Chittagong-Sandwip-Hatiya.
2. Different infrastructures including the landing facilities damaged by cyclone SIDR have been reestablished and refacilitated at the cost of Tk. 9.01 crore.
3. Four new passengers’ sea trucks have been built for the costal areas and risky routes at the cost of Tk. 15.17 crore.
4. Three Ro-Ro Ferries, two K-type Ferries and 6 pontoons have been rehabilited at the cost of Tk. 39.46 crore.
5. At the cost of Tk. 38.48 crore, one Ro-Ro Ferry, one Ro-Ro Pontoon and two Utility pontoons have been built and already deployed in the service.
6. Four Wreckers have been provided for Paturia, Daulatdia, Mawa and Charjanajat ghats at the cost of Tk. 7 crore.
7. Ferry service has been launched in Mawa-Katalbari route in 2009 and in Paturia-Kazirhat route in 2012.
8. To ensure speedy and efficient ferry service in Mawa route, from BIWTC own fund two K-type (Kisani and Kaberi) Ferries have been built at the cost of Tk. 16.46 crore and already deployed into operation.
9. From BIWTC own fund of Tk. 13.79 crore two Utility type-1 Ferries and 2 Pontoon have been built and already deployed in the service.
10. At the cost of Tk. 1.12 crore 2 Water Buses have been built and at the cost of Tk. 3 crore, the building of 4 more Water Buses are completed in this month. These 6 water buses already deployed in Sadarghat-Ashulia Circules waster route.
11. From 2009 till to date as many as 460 officers and staff have been appointed in different posts to fill up the shortages of manpower of the organizatiopn.
12. Keeping in aim to materialize the dream of our Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for making Digital Bangladesh and to implement Vision-2021, as a partner of the government, BIWTC has already introduced digital system into its activities. E-ticketing, E-mail and other computerized devices are actively operated in BIWTC and all necessary trainings on computer affairs are being given to BIWTC officers and staff in this regard.
In addition to all these achievements, we have a number of ongoing development activities and programmes. These are mentioned here
1. Two 2 K-type Ferries and 7 high-standard Utility Ferries are under the process of construction.
2. Each at the cost of Tk. 34.45 crore, 4 self-propelled multipurpose inland container carrying ships, having loading capacity of 108 TEUs, are being initiated to build procure.
3. Construction works of 2 ever biggest inland passenger carrying ships, having the capacity of 764 passengers, are in progress at the cost of Tk. 49.47 crore in a private shipyard in Chittagong.
4. Construction works of 4 more Water Buses, of each having capability of 75 passengers, has been undertaken at the cost of Tk. 5 crore.
5. Programmes for the development of all land-properties of BIWTC with the construction of a multistoried building at the premises of present BIWTC head office at Dilkusha have undertaken.
6. Besides, initiative has been taken to build 5 more ferries.
The Guardian: In the end, please give your valuable message for all concerned with the activities of inland waterway, and especially for the people of Bangladesh?
Chairman: BIWTC has a long tradition for serving the countrymen in the inland waterway across the country. Still there remains no alternative to BIWTC fleet for safe and dependable services in inland deep sea-routes. The panel steamer, especially the Rocket service for passengers from Dhaka-Barisal-Khulna has made a history of tradition in Bangladesh.
BIWTC holds the hundred-year of tradition and glory in the service of carrying passengers and goods. But, it is true that many of BIWTC ships have gone old and need to be replaced. Realizing this, the government has taken huge development initiatives and programmes to improve the overall condition of BIWTC, its services and fleet.
By this time, a lot of developments are ensured and the passengers are of course getting comport, and, I believe, upon the completion of all ongoing and undertaken projects and activities, soon our people will find a new BIWTC and its services in a new way.