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Friday, May 4, 2012

Assam ferry accident - safety is nobody's concern

Sad, that after that grisly accident, things would be forgotten soon and people would be back at their killing ways – it was more of an accident waiting to happen – a water grave set up by people subscribing to violating rules by all means and the Govt. not keen to implement the hackneyed rules.  There is no infrastructure, no effective machinery to put safety rules into practice.    In Assam, a state that depends heavily on water transport, reportedly  only 1,000 boats have valid permits while the demand, especially in areas where road connectivity is poor, is enormous.   Phenomenal overloading is persistent everywhere in every mode of transport be it boat, auto, lorry, train ….. 

I had posted on the loss of life in Assam ferry accident and queried whether it could have been averted or atleast minimized , if only basic safety rules had been in place.  Read :

This time, the incident in Brahmaputra on 1st May 2012 was caused by storm as the ferry was caught and capsized in Dhubri district.  But fact remains, that the ferry was overloaded much higher than its safety, had no safety equipments, had no trained personnel and assistance was not forthcoming immediately – all contributing to the death in large nos.  We continue to fail to learn from accidents – this was not the first one in Indian waterway, this year itself there have been more than a handful.  After hundreds of lives lost also, there would not be worthwhile implementation of safety measures.   This ferry perhaps had a capacity of less than 100 but had almost the thrice the number coupled with goods of all hues.  It carried no life-jackets and lifeboats as it navigated one of Asia’s largest rivers. The Assam tragedy also shows that the information regarding storms never reached the people on time, especially in far-flung areas. 

Just as we have Motor Vehicles Act, there is the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958.  Indian Merchant Shipping Act was enacted in 1923, the provision of which were in line with the U.K. Merchant Shipping Act, 1894. After independence, taking care of new conditions and changes that have taken place in the Shipping Industry, a comprehensive legislation passed by Indian Parliament in 1958 known as Merchant Shipping Act, 1958.  The Act has been constantly under revision and amendments to ratify the changes approved by the International Maritime Organisation.

Part VIII deals with passenger ships, their survey, Certificate of survey, powers of surveyor, fee, duration of survey, etc. It provides for keeping order in passenger ships specifying certain acts of persons as an offence under the act. This part also contains provision for  special trade passenger ships and pilgrim ships.

Sec.  220. states of the obligatory need for a Certificate of survey for carriage of passengers.  This Section states :   220. No ship to carry passengers without a certificate of survey--
(1) No ship shall carry more than twelve passengers between ports or places in India or to or from any port or place in India from or to any port or place outside India, unless she has a certificate of survey under this Part in force and applicable to be voyage on which she is about to proceed or the service on which she is about to be employed.
 (2) No customs collector shall grant a port clearance, nor shall any pilot be assigned, to any ship for which certificate of survey is required by this Part until after the production by the owner, agent or master thereof of a certificate under this Part in force and applicable to the voyage on which she is about to proceed for the service on which she is about to be employed.
(3) If any ship for which a certificate of survey is required by this Part leaves or attempts to leave any port of survey without a certificate, any customs collector or any pilot on board the ship may detain her until she obtains a certificate.

Part VI – of the MS Act deals with the  provisions relating to the certificates of officers - Masters, Mates, Engineers, Skippers etc., and also requirements of officers on board various category of ships.   Manning a vessel and steering it safely are of utmost importance and many a times, there could be persons maneuvering a vessel only with experience, rather than any proper training. 

Part IX of the Merchant Shipping Act 1958 deals with the provisions relating to Safety.  This part gives the provisions relating to construction rules for  ships, prevention of collisions, life saving  appliances  and fire appliances, installation of radio telegraphy radio  telephony and direction finders, signaling lamp and provisions relating to stability information. The part also deals with the provisions relating to Safety Certificates, Safety equipment certificates, Safety radio telegraphy Certificates, exemption certificates, etc., provision for determining  load  lines,  issue  of  load   line certificates and special provisions as to ships other than  Indian ships. 

But the simplest understanding is the rules are complex, too complicated to understand.  The Govt machinery is not good enough to administer and implement strictly various provisions of the Act and generally people manipulate to run rickety vessels imperiling the lives of people.  Precious lives have been lost – it should kick the people to action and ensure that there is no further loss of life arising out of lack of safety measures.  Will that happen ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

1 comment:

  1. One of the malaise of Indian system - poor remain neglected. If only this were to be rich people's transport, Govt would be interested - poor are allowed to die - Gupta