The cases of major capsize of vessels, including MV Nasrin-1 and Pinak-6, are among the 1,517 cases that have been pending with the lone marine court in Bangladesh for long.
Even some of the capsize cases have been pending for decades.
The marine court sent its statement to the Dhaka chief judicial magistrate’s court in March stating that 1,517 cases, including 18 major capsize cases, were pending with the court.
Marine court lawyers and its public prosecutor said that the capsize cases remained pending for long as either the High Court had stayed the proceedings or the witnesses kept to avoid appearing before the court to testify against the accused people who were influential.
The major capsize cases stayed by the High Court include Pinak-6, Nasrin-1 MV Miraj, MV Bandhan and MV Sarothi.
Nasrin-1 case has been pending for about two decades, MV Sarothi case for nine years and Pinak-6 case has been pending for six years, they said.
Marine lawyer Janhagir Hossain said that the marine court became ineffective as water transport-related cases were being filed with other courts although the Bangladesh Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 empowered the marine court to try the offences punishable under the ordinance.
He, however, said that general courts could issue sentences harsher than that of the marine court.
Jahangir, also a Supreme Court lawyer, added that a number of capsize cases were stayed by the High Court on the grounds of the filing of two cases for the same capsize.
Marine court public prosecutor Parvin Sultana agreed with Jahangir and said that the Pinak-6 trial was stayed by the High Court in 2014 on the grounds that two cases — one with Munshiganj police station and the other with the Marine Court — were field against Pinak owner for the same capsize.
Parvin said that accused vessel owners were securing bail from other courts while there was no provision for bail in the 1976 ordinance.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology naval architecture and marine engineering department professor Mir Tareque Ali said that the government should strengthen the marine court and its prosecution as well as update the 1976 ordinance to ensure punishment of vessel owners, masters and employees.
The Pinak-6 case was stayed until the submission of the investigation report by Munshiganj police station in the second case pending with the Munshiganj chief judicial magistrate’s court.
‘The Pinak case is still pending with the High Court although we have replied to the ruling issued by the court,’ Parvin said, adding that Munshiganj police station already submitted the investigation report to the chief judicial magistrate court but the Pinak owner was yet to submit it to the High Court.
On Nasrin-1 capsize case, Parvin said that the trial remained stalled as both the owner and master of the vessel had died along with the passengers in the 2003 capsize.
Jahangir Hossain said that most of the major capsize cases were stayed by the High Court on the grounds that the Marine Court conducted the proceedings illegally taking no opinion from the court’s assessors as per the Section 47(4) of the 1976 ordinance.
He said that the ordinance empowered the department of shipping to lodge cases for capsizes and executive magistrates to investigate the cases.
The police can only report to the department of shipping about any vessel accident and join the rescue operation, Jahangir said.
‘Though a home ministry circular has asked the police not harass accused people by investigating capsize cases, the police continue investigating such case giving the accused people the opportunity to challenge the proceedings in the High Court,’ he said.
Jahnagir and Mir Tareque Ali said that there was no major conviction and compensation in major capsizes excepting COCO-4 case.
Parvin said that the marine court in 2017 jailed nine accused in 2009 COCO-4 capsize case for 5–7 years and ordered payment of compensation of Tk 4.86 lakh.
She also said that the court in 2020 jailed a master for two years and fined an owner Tk 2.86 lakh for separate capsizes.
Mir Tareque Ali and Jahangir said that the marine court was being controlled by the department of shipping although the judiciary was separated from the executive organ of the state on November 1, 2007.