Moreover, he had used an ordinary mechanic to install the high-powered engine in a bid to increase the vessel’s passenger load.
The Rapid Action Battalion, or RAB, uncovered various irregularities related to the ill-fated launch while interrogating Hamjalal following his arrest.
On the night of the deadly blaze, Hamjalal had instructed the launch crew to delay the departure from Dhaka so that it could reach its destination before vessels, Commander Khandaker Al Moin, director of RAB’s media wing, said on Monday.
That way, the launch could also attract more passengers and in the process, turn in a bigger profit.
In the deadliest launch inferno in Bangladesh’s history, Abhijan-10 caught fire around 3 am Friday near Jhalakathi’s Gabkhan on the Sugandha River. The blaze engulfed the three-storey launch killing at least 38 people, with 80 others hospitalised.
Many have also been reported missing.
Most of the passengers were asleep when the fire erupted. The river ferry floated for some distance after the power was cut off before going up in flames.
Three cases have been filed over the incident thus far. Jahangir Hossain of the Jhalakathi Ponabalia Union Village Police filed a case over ‘unnatural deaths’ at Jhalakathi Sadar Police Station.
Then Nazmul Islam Nasir, the union council chairman from Baliatali in Barguna’s Sadar Upazila, filed a case with the Barguna Chief Judicial Magistrates court on Sunday, accusing 25 suspects. Launch owner Hamjalal was among those named in the case.
Finally, the Department of Shipping Chief Inspector Shafiqur Rahman charged the owners, masters and crew members of MV Abhijan-10 in marine court in Dhaka with negligence on Sunday, accusing Hamjalal and seven others. The court then issued an arrest warrant in connection with the charges.
Hamjalal, who also owns two other vessels, was arrested in Keraniganj on Monday.
He was hiding in a relative’s house after the filing of the cases, Commander Moin said during a media briefing.
According to the case dossier, the engine room caught fire after crossing Jhalakathi’s Nalchhiti area. Lack of prompt action to douse the fire caused the flames to spread and burn the whole vessel.
The launch did not have sufficient fire extinguishers either. There was diesel in a drum and cylinder stove for cooking outside the engine room, in violation of the rules.
Many people aboard the vessel on the night of the deadly blaze later said the engine had malfunctioned immediately after leaving Dhaka. A few technicians had even tried to fix the issue a few times as the launch travelled at high speed.
The launch came into service this month following the installation of the two reconditioned Daihatsu engines, according to Hamjalal. But he claimed there were no issues with the engines.
He did, however, admit that the oil barrels were next to the engine room.
“During the preliminary interrogation, Hamjalal said he had installed high-powered engines in November to meet the demand for more passengers. A general mechanic fitted the engines. He did not even get permission [from Department of Shipping] to change them,” said Moin.
“He instructed the staff to leave late and reach the destination early. This would attract more passengers. He did it out of greed. “