Travelling and transporting goods by boats are popular, especially in Ayeyawady Delta, because of the low cost and the inaccessibility of many areas by road. But, ferry accidents are fairly common in Myanmar, especially in rainy season. Poor maintenance and overcrowding, drunk-driving and breaking safety rules make the boats prone to capsizing.
Myanmar is in the midst of its monsoon season, which begins in mid-May and usually ends in mid-October. The season often generates high winds and flash storms in delta and coastal areas.
Hence, Myanmar Maritime Police Force has raised awareness of safety of boats in rainy season and has alerted the pilots nationwide to follow the do’s and don’ts in attempts to prevent tragedies.
The basic safety measures include prohibition against drunk driving and overloading, using good communication, ensuring sufficient life jackets for passengers and taking drills occasionally.
The ferry safety enforcement comes at a time when water levels in the rivers are rising due to recent torrential and heavy rainfall. It has alerted the operators of ferries to exercise extreme caution at a time when the rivers are swollen.
The amount of water flowing through many rivers means the current is fast, strong and unpredictable, and the heavy rainfall with squalls can be problematic even for experienced pilots of ships and ferries.
There were also several other fatal ferry incidents happening over the last twelve months, leaving some people dead because there were not enough life jackets.
It is questionable whether these accidents were preventable or not. There were not enough life jackets for the passengers, the navigational equipment was unreliable, the weather conditions were harsh, the ferry failed to follow the navigation rules for safety of the passengers, etc. The direct cause of ferry accidents is almost always human error and negligence.
Like thousands of people who drive buses, pilot ships or fly planes, the captain of the ferry holds the lives of others in their hands.
That demands an extra measure of care because a mistake, a moment of inattention or true negligence can be catastrophic.
Most of us know how easy it is to make mistakes at work and would be hard-pressed to draw a line between carelessness and the kind of negligence that is criminal.
Local authorities should launch a hotline for reporting incidents of overcrowding and other safety violations, and plans to train local governmental officials to monitor and report unsafe vessels.
Ferry operators who ignore safety rules should get steeper fines and punishment. People should not be dying because of negligence.