The trial proceedings in the incident of the capsizing of the launch in the Sitalakhya river which killed 34 people in April 2021 have not yet started in a year.

Investigations into the two cases filed regarding the April 4, 2021 accident have been completed, but the trial is delayed, lawyers said.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority filed two separate cases with the Maritime Court and a police station in Narayanganj against 14 employees of the SKL-3 freighter, accusing them of causing the accident.

The ship’s owner, the Awami League legislator for Bagerhat-2 constituency, Sheikh Sharhan Naser Tonmoy, was not named in either case.

The river police indictment filed in Narayanganj court on December 9, 2021, named only three defendants – SKL-3 freighter captain Wahiduzzaman, sukani Anwar Mallick and engine driver Majnu Mollah, said Investigator Yunus Munshi.

The three defendants named in the indictment are now free on bail.

The Sabit AL-Hasan launch, heading to Munshiganj from Narayanganj carrying over 50 passengers, capsized while being hit by SKL-3.

Thirty-four bodies were recovered in two days of rescue operations.

The coast guard seized the cargo ship and arrested 14 crew members in Munshiganj and handed over the ship and crew to river police.

The seized cargo was released to the owner by court order on May 23 on a bail of Tk 1.85 crore.

Investigating Officer Yunus said he did not interview lawmaker Tonmoy, the ship’s owner, because he could not find his role in the incident.

“The owner has employed an efficient captain, sukani and engine operator for the vessel and all responsibilities lie with them. Nothing was found against the owner, said the investigating officer.

Khokon Saha, general secretary of the Narayanganj Municipal Unit Awami League, is the defense attorney in the case.

He said the trial in the case has not yet started, although police filed the indictment nearly four months ago.

The formulation of the charges and the trial of the case will take place in the maritime court, he said.

Navy court prosecutor Bellal Hossain said they have yet to receive the indictment and other documents.

He said the Navy Court would count the Merchant Navy Department’s investigation report into the incident as an indictment in the case filed with the court.

The indictment of the two cases will be merged and a single indictment will be issued against the accused, Bellal said.

The Merchant Marine Department investigation report held Captain Wahiduzzaman and driver Zakir Hossain responsible for the incident and made no mention of owner Tonmoy.

The heaviest sentence in the case is five years imprisonment and a fine of Tk 1 lakh, he added.

The owner of the capsized launch, Alal Hossain, said the police investigation was not appropriate since the cargo belongs to a ruling party lawmaker.

Alal has not yet received any compensation. He said he was not allowed to press charges for the incident by the police who told him that BIWTA had already filed a complaint.

Alal said he brought the launch by Tk 22.5 lakh and only managed to operate it for two years.

“When I tried to file a complaint, representatives of the owner of the cargo ship spoke to me and promised compensation, but it never came.

I had a few conversations with them, but they stopped receiving my calls for the past few months,” Alal said.

Khokon Saha said the defense gave 1 lakh Tk to each victim’s family and promised to give another 1 lakh Tk after their statements in court during the trial.

Department of Shipping data showed that at least 146 people were killed and 179 injured in 39 river accidents in 2021.

Navy court officials said 3,752 cases remained pending at the court trial stage. The cases include 164 cases involving accidents.

The trial of major maritime accidents like capsizing of Pinak-6 and MV Miraj in 2014 and MV Sarosh in 2013, capsizing of MV Shariatpur-1 in 2012 in which 134 passengers died in Padma river, n is not finished yet.

A speedboat carrying around 50 passengers capsized in the river and was hit by deep-sea cargo near Al Aminnagar in Narayanganj on March 20, killing at least 11 people.