A River Police rule – which allows them to arrest a vessel's owner and other staff members for the sake of investigating an accident – has raised serious concerns among the launch owners.
This rule was introduced through a gazette notification in November last year, but the River Police started to enforce it recently.
Speaking to The Business Standard, owner of Kuakata-2 launch Abul Kalam said, "A vessel is operated by its crew. It is not fair if the owner is held responsible for any accident that occurred due to the crew's negligence.
"There is the existing law of the Department of Shipping [monitoring body for all types of water vessels], so there is no need for a new one."
He continued, "The River Police rule was made without consulting any of the stakeholders. It is a form of harassment, and owners are losing their interest in this sector because of it.
"New investors are also getting reluctant to enter this sector, which will threaten its sustainability in the coming days."
Bangladesh Inland Water Passenger Carrier Association's Secretary Siddiqur Rahman Patwary said, "The rule is contradictory to The Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976. Shipping department is the monitoring body for our services, and River Police should follow the existing law."
Hinting at the recent arrest of MV Mayur-2 owner, Patwary pointed out that all the papers of that launch were up-to-date, but the owner was still accused and arrested for an accident, which is frustrating.
"Under these circumstances, we are going to hold a meeting with the shipping department and demand the cancellation of the rule formulated for the River Police," he added.
Shafiqul Islam, superintendent of police at the River Police Headquarters, said, "We do not have the authority to make any law. We just implement laws introduced by the law ministry.
"A gazette was published where operational power of investigation was given to the River Police, which we did not have earlier. For the sake of investigation, vessel owners can now be arrested."
Shafiqul added that in the majority of cases, the River Police finds evidence of vessel owners being responsible for some form of violation, such as recruiting unqualified manpower and installing faulty equipment.
"When high level talks were being held before issuing the gazette notification for River Police arrest rule, representatives from the sector were present there," he said.
Commenting on the arrest of MV Mayur-2 owner, Sub-Inspector Shahidul Alam of Sadarghat River Police Station said, "The papers of Moyur-2 was up-to-date, but there were violations in the launch.
"There was only one driver instead of two, and it also left the dockyard one hour before the scheduled time."
Commenting on the issue, Department of Shipping Director Badrul Hasan Liton said, "We are following The Inland Shipping Ordinance, 1976, and according to the law, anyone can be detained if his offence is proved."
"We do not support the arrest of innocents," he said.