All the launches on Dhaka-Barishal river route are incurring losses regularly because of the scarcity of passengers after the Covid-19 outbreak.
Sources from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said that launch services were suspended indefinitely from late March after Covid-19 spread across the country.
Though launch services resumed since June, the number of passengers on the routes are much lower than before.
Sources from the Launch Owners Association in Barishal said that on every trip (beginning from Sadarghat in Dhaka to Barishal and back), each launch had to bear a loss of at least Tk60,000-100,000 depending on its size and capacity.
"On each trip, I have to count a loss of Tk80000-120,000 because I have to follow social distancing regulations on deck. Some companies have stopped their services because of the loss. But a few companies like us are still operational, and hope to get more passengers soon," said Nijam Uddin, owner of Adventure launch.
His net expense is Tk450,000 on a trip but he earns up to Tk350,000 by selling tickets and transporting goods, said Nijam Uddin.
"It's a launch with a capacity of 1,200 passengers but I get only around 350 passengers," he said, adding, "We cannot carry more passengers even if we want to because we have to maintain social distancing."
Another launch owner Abul Kalam echoed the same.
"Our primary income is from selling first class and business class tickets. But the number of passengers of these classes have dropped now. From the 220 cabins, I could not sell one third of the cabin tickets this week," said Abul Kalam, owner of Kuakata Launch.
Earlier, 16 luxury launches used to sail on the Dhaka-Barishal routes. Eight launches sailed from Dhaka while the remaining eight sailed from Barishal. But now, the number has dropped to eight – four from Dhaka and four from Barishal.
There are permits for 21 luxury launches to sail on this route. And about 2,000 people are directly or indirectly involved in the launch sailing, maintenance and other related activities.
The launch owners also assume that the launch service on the Dhaka-Barishal route may stop automatically for shortage of passengers, if the launch fares are not increased.
"We all urged BIWTA to increase the fare during the pandemic so that we can manage our costs. But they didn't respond to our call," said Nijam Uddin.
While visiting the Barishal launch ghat (pier) on Tuesday evening, the reporter also found only a few passengers waiting for launches to start for Dhaka.
"We have no plan to increase the ticket price, but the higher authorities are considering it as some compensation to recover the loss," said Azmol Huda, deputy director of BIWTA in Barishal.
He expects the number of passenger to increase for the upcoming Eid.