Shipyards in Barishal are building luxurious and modern passenger and cargo vessels that ply on rivers across the country, but people involved in the sector say they can expand their business to a larger market at home and abroad.
Twelve shipyards have been building vessels for three decades at different spots in the district, according to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) of Barishal.
Most of the shipyards have been established on and around the Kirtonkhola River which flows on three sides of the city.
Most of the modern and luxurious vessels on the Dhaka-Barishal route have been built here, said Azmol Huda, deputy director of BIWTA, Barishal.
Surovi Shipping Lines first started building launches in Barishal in 1990, and then modern launches in 1995.
"My father first showed the courage to build modern launches in our own shipyard, and we made a good profit from them," said Resbul Kabir Rezin, one of the owners of Surovi Shipping Lines.
Following their example, other launch companies started building vessels which also had all modern amenities including elevators.
Most shipyards in Barishal now build at least one cargo or passenger vessel every year. However, the speed of the work has been disrupted a little by the coronavirus pandemic.
The largest passenger vessel in the country is now under construction at Sundarban shipyard at Beltola in Barishal.
An investor has to go through several stages to build a vessel.
"At first we have to go to a naval architectural firm to get a design, which costs Tk40-60 lakh in our county. Then we have to submit it to the director general of the Department of Shipping under the Ministry of Shipping for its approval," said Nijam Uddin, owner of Adventure Launch Company.
"The design is approved within four to six months. Then a shipyard is fixed where the vessel will be built," he said, adding that the construction is done under the supervision of the director general of the Department of Shipping.
"We procure steel sheets from ship breaking yards in Chattogram or import them from either China or India according to our demand," said Abul Kalam, owner of Kuakata Launch.
"We usually need 12,000 to 15,000 tonnes of iron sheets to build the structure of a three-storied launch. Around 1,000 men have to work in building a launch at different stages, including interior designers, electrician, mechanics, engineers, carpenters, construction workers, painters, etc," said Nijam.
He said building a launch takes 24 to 30 months with an investment of Tk20-30 crores, depending on size and quality.
The vessels' engines are procured from ship breaking areas in Chattogram and its gears are imported from China.
Every vessel has to install rudders and some instruments for weather forecasting, which are also imported.
"We apply to get route permission from the BIWTA after completing the vessel." said Rezin.
All the launch owners in Barishal said it is an advantage for them to have their vessels built at their own shipyards in Barishal.
"We have to decorate our vessels secretly, so that other launch owners or their sources cannot see our interior design and some other secret things before they start plying on the naval route," said Shohag Hossain, the manager of Sundarban Shipyard.
He said, "If could we get LPG gas and oxygen at a reasonable price, our ship-building work will increase more. The prices of all material related to this industry have suddenly increased, which has badly affected our work speed."
"To expand this industry, we need loans on easy terms from the branches of government banks in Barishal. Now, we often have to borrow money from private banks in Dhaka" said Rezin.
"We want to manufacture these vessels as per orders received from home and abroad provided we get all kinds of support from the government," said the yard owner.
"We will have to think of suspending this business if the Dhaka-Barishal naval route is not kept safe all the time with proper dredging. Two cargo vessels sank at Charbaria point on the route, and they need to be salvaged immediately to keep the route alive," he added.
"The shipyards in Barishal have adapted to the passengers' demands with the passage of time. There are very good prospects for the ship-building business, and we are ready to support them for expansion," said Deputy Director of BIWTA Azmol Huda, adding that they will salvage the sunken vessels very soon.
He also said that at this time of year there is a strong current in the river at that spot, which makes it impossible to salvage the vessels from there just now.