The MV Abhijan-10 launch, which caught fire early 24 December while travelling to Barguna, was using an engine with three times more horsepower than the original one to run faster, causing extreme temperatures and ultimately burning the diesel container.
A probe report has also found the four owners of the launch, its master and his assistant, the engine driver and his assistant, the surveyor, and the inspector responsible for the devastating accident on the Sugandha river in Jhalakathi that killed 47 people.
According to the report submitted by the committee of the Ministry of Shipping, officials of the Shipping Department and the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) at Sadarghat, including a surveyor and inspector, have been found extremely negligent in discharging their duties. The owner of the dockyard where the launch was repaired and the engine changed was also held responsible for the accident.
The convener of the committee and Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping, Tofail Islam, submitted the report to the Shipping Secretary Mohammad Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury on Monday night.
According to the report, BIWTA Inspector Habibur Rahman never visited the launch before its two trips following repairs and change of engine, although it had been docked for three months.
Habibur claimed he was busy with another probe on 23 December but failed to produce any supporting documents.
The report mentions that there were excess passengers on the Abhijan-10. In the voyage declaration, the launch showed 275 passengers on board at the time of leaving the Sadarghat terminal, but there were at least 310 people onboard. Another 50 passengers boarded from Chandpur.
In short, the actual number of passengers on board was far more than what was declared, the report said.
The probe committee made 25 recommendations to prevent such accidents, including keeping permanent carbon dioxide systems to put out fires in engine rooms, stopping the rotation system used by owners – which allows them to run fewer launches against demand, instituting mandatory examination of fire extinguishing equipment on launches every three months, and not keeping any flammable elements around the engine room.
According to the report, the fire originated from the two faulty engines of the MV Abhijan-10. The engines were more powerful than what the launch should have used. Also, the engines were 24 years old and had been unused for a long time, developing various flaws.
The severity and casualties of the accident increased due to the negligence of the launch operators and staff and their fleeing the launch after the fire broke out. They did not try to douse the fire.
The probe committee found the fire extinguishing equipment stored in the launch unused.
The report said the launch had been docked for three months and made its first voyage on 19 December after repairs, and a second one on 23 December.
In October 2021, it was sent to the Madaripur Dockyard at Keraniganj of Dhaka for some repair work and engine change. But the dockyard did not have a valid licence to operate.
So, the probe body has also held dockyard owner Shahidul Islam Bhuiyan responsible for the accident.
BIWTA engineer and surveyor Mahbubur Rashid allowed the launch to operate without inspecting the engine after the change.
A launch owner usually arranges for surveys by the BIWTA surveyor after any repair work, which the Abhijan owners did not do.
On the fateful night, some faults with the engines were detected immediately after the launch started, which the master and the engine driver ignored, and kept the engine on. The passengers also said that the deck of the launch was highly heated during the journey.
Due to the faulty engines, the excessive fuel exhaust jammed in the manifold, raising the exhaust temperature. Surging while going through the turbo charger also made a lot of noise, but went ignored.
Moreover, short of air flow for combustion inside the engine, due to the turbo charger surging, shut down the engine two or three times, but the engine driver forced the engine to start, ignoring the warning signs.
The committee said that the pipeline and exhaust pipes had to be changed with the replacement of the engine, but nothing was done, which created exhaust back-pressure, raising the temperature to 750 degrees Celsius.
The committee also found the indicator cork of the main engine open and the locking knot loose, generating sparking, making the engine room and the surrounding areas extremely hot. At one point, the sparking set the diesel tanks of the engine room on fire.
The committee report said the launch engine stopped after the fire broke out. About 15 minutes later the launch moved towards the bank of the river at Char Batarakanda village of Dhansindri union of Jhalakathi. At this point the engine driver and his assistants fled, although they got enough time to dock the launch.
As the launch was not anchored or tied up where it first landed, it moved back into the middle of the river. About 40 minutes after the launch caught fire, it docked at Diakul village on the other side of the river. Many passengers were burnt during this time and many jumped into the river.
The worst launch fire in memory occurred in the early hours of 24 December on the way to Barguna from Dhaka, killing 47 people, injuring 70, with scores of people missing.