State-run Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) has wrapped up its passenger services to inland routes from the capital citing losses because of a small number of passengers.
BIWTC used to operate two passenger vessels - MV Madhumati and the MV Bangali - on the Dhaka-Morolganj-Dhaka routes. They were shut down on 22 September.
Those two vessels were the last inland passenger vessels of its fleet. BIWTC has, however, coastal services in operation.
Once, dozens of paddle steamers with historical values were in its fleet including Sandra, Lali, Kiwi, Emu, Pelican, Gazi, Ostrich and Mahsud.
These steamers were built in 1918 and afterwards. One after another they went out of service and finally the BIWTC had four paddle steamers - Mahsud, Lepcha, Turn and Ostrich- that were in service. They have also gone out of services recently.
In 2014 and 2015, passenger ships MV Bangali and MV Madhumati were commissioned for service to keep the inland service afloat.
Officials said these vessels started incurring losses after the inauguration of Padma Bridge that eased communication with the Southern part of the country by road. They will now lease them out to earn some money.
“We have nothing to do. Not only BIWTC, private launch owners are also incurring loss. Passengers now can go to Morolganj in four to five hours via Padma Bridge. Will they make an18-20 hours of journey in our steamer?” questioned S M Ashikuzzaman, Director (Commerce) of BIWTC.
He said they had already stopped plying age-old paddle steamers due to fitness problem. PS Turn has already been leased out through tender. BIWTC will hand it over by this month.
“We wanted to keep PS Masud operational. Final decision has not yet been taken,” he said. PS Lepcha will be leased out as well. The tendering process will begin soon, he added.
According to sources, ‘Ostrich’ was chartered in 2019 as it could not be turned into tourist carrier. But after three and a half years of lease they started the process of taking it back as the lessee could not pay dues. In the name of renovation, the inner infrastructure of the century-old ship has been destroyed. The vessel is beyond repair.
Asked, what will happen to MV Bangali and MV Madhumati, as they are comparatively new in service and equipped with modern navigation equipment, he said, “They will be offered for charter as well. Decisions will be taken soon.”
He claimed that BIWTC’s earnings through these two vessels had dropped by 40 percent due to passenger crisis after the inauguration of Padma Bridge that compelled them to take the decision while the recent price hike of diesel made a strong bite on the corporation’s balance sheet.
Now, the BIWTC will shift the on-board staffs of these two vessels to other ships which are plying in coastal areas.