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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hundreds die in Assam ferry mishap - is it an accident !!

Almost every day, rules of safety are thrown to winds and perhaps disasters are waiting to happen all the time. 

Brahmaputra,  also called Tsangpo-Brahmaputra, is a trans-boundary river and one of the major rivers of Asia.  From its origin in southwestern Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo River, it flows across southern Tibet to break through the Himalayasin great gorges and into Arunachal Pradesh (India) where it is known as Dihang.  It flows southwest through the Assam Valley as Brahmaputra and south through Bangladesh as the Jamuna.  It is an important river for irrigation and transportation.  The lower reaches are sacred to Hindus. While most rivers on the Indian subcontinent have female names, this river has a rare male name, as it means "son of Brahma" in Sanskrit (putra means "son").

Very sad to read reports from Assam today [1st May 2012]  that the death toll is put closer to 200 and more than 100 feared missing – the search operations are on.   Rescuers and divers of the Army, BSF and NDRF with speedboats were searching the waters this morning amidst torrential rain which was continuing since last night to locate more bodies as the ferry was carrying over 300 passengers when it was caught in a storm and capsized in Dhubri district.   It would rankle as one of the worst boat tragedies in Assam – it was another packed steamer  carrying over 300 passengers sank in the Brahmaputra river after being caught in a severe storm midstream in the Dhubri.  Sad only  about 25 people managed to swim to safety. The bodies of the victims have been taken to the Dhubri civil hospital.

Reports state that the  overcrowded ferry was carrying a passenger load of over 300 people – mainly local farmers and their families – when it tipped over in a storm.  Quoting  Eyewitnesses reports have it that the vessel was old and broke in two after capsizing in the swollen river.  The accident site falls in the district’s Fakirganj police station adjoining the international border with Bangladesh. The boat was going to Hatsinghimari from Dhubri town.  The spot is around 50 km north of Hatsingimari and around 15 km east of district headquarter town Dhubri and is inaccessible by road.  The ferry boat  is reported to have left Dhubri around 3pm to Medertary with over 300 passengers, grocery items and some motorcycles on board, and had almost reached the ferry station when it entered the eye of a cyclonic gust. Under the impact of the cyclonic storm, the boat got itself wrecked into pieces and sunk in the river with its occupants.

The Assam government has sought help from the Border Security Force for rescue operations but darkness and bad weather are hampering the efforts. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  who incidentally is a Rajya Sabha MP from the State, called state Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to convey his condolences and express solidarity with the victims.  The prime minister also assured of all possible assistance in relief work and to the families of the deceased.  As usual an inquiry has been ordered into the incident. 

This time, it was cyclonic storm which caused loss of precious lives but is that all – can this be construed as an accident or an act of Nature [Act of God !!]

Sadly, the answer is a known “NO” – accidents like these are waiting to happen – everyone knows our hackneyed regulations, the old rickety vessels involved in transportation, the illiterate uneducated teenagers as drivers, no safety gadgets, no communication equipments, people trying to flout rules in all possible ways, passengers with utter disregard for safety and care for others, refusing to learn from earlier mishaps, lackadaisical attitude of the authorities, unpreparedness and lack of facilities for the rescue team – what a pathetic plight.  Most of us have seen the boats / ferries / contraptions used for carriage of passengers; we do not care; authorities turn a blind eye – poorer people have no option than using these due to the cost, logistics, distance and everything else – becoming sitting ducks ! – Do we say Sad or Should we fight for quality life. 

Just think of any advanced country.  It is not to put Mother India down but to know the reality.  People travel in Cruises and in Ferries.  Ferry have timebound scheduled, beautifully maintained, have passenger stops with all amenities, printed tickets, fixed fares and above all care for the safety of all users.  They are preferred means of transportation in some countries, for crossing from one place to another – connecting cities and islands, allowing direct transit between points at a capital cost much lower than bridges or tunnels. 

In Australia, there is the famous Sydney Ferries and here are some safety rules taken from that :  All wharves* serviced by Sydney Ferries are covered by a recorded 24 hour CCTV and are equipped with an Emergency Help Point and lifebuoys. An information Help Point and PA system provide up-to-date information about the service.  Travellers are expected to be present minutes in advance before the departure of the vessel and gates closes 2 minutes before the scheduled departure.  In nights the areas are well lit and any time  Customers can use the Emergency Help Point.  When one presses the Emergency Help Point on a wharf they  are visible on CCTV and will be able to speak immediately to trained security personnel for assistance.

On board the vessel, customers must not stand in areas marked with yellow and black stripped lines or on the upper deck.  There are specified places for placing luggage and passengers are expected to remain seated during the journey as the vessel can move and sway if water conditions change.  They are also warned of the possibility of getting wet from sea spray if they sit outdoors.   Bike riders must secure their bicycles in the designated area on the Manly Ferries and follow the direction of the crew to stow bicycles on other vessels.

There are safety measures and emergency plans in place and the safety procedures naturally protect those utilizing the services.  Can you dream of any such arrangements here !  Sad there is no concern or value for the human lives and couple of hundreds are lost at the river and the Nation mourns them

With anguish – S. Sampathkumar.


  1. sad, human lives are lost and whether on road or at sea - we continue to flout rules - Arun

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