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BANGLADESH

Paddlers (originally steamers, but converted to diesel power in 1995) still exist in Bangladesh operated by Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation on the famous "Rocket" service  from Dhaka (Sadarghat Ferry terminal) to Morelganj with various intermediate stops, a distance of 354 kilometres. The journey time is approximately 28 hours but can vary enormously depending on the navigability of the river system at anygiven time.  The route takes the ship along several rivers in the Ganges delta and includes calls at Chandpur, Barisal, Hularhat and Mongla amongst others.  Originally the service went as far as Khulna, but this is no longer the case.

Vessels offer accommodation in three classes and are patronised by regular paying ferry passengers and tourists sailing as part of organised holiday tours. Only in First Class, on the upper deck forward, do the cabins have a wash basin and bed linen and on deck there is dining and tea service with stewards in attendance. Sailing "Deck class" is altogether different. Passengers have to bring their own sleeping bag and sleep on the deck. The journey passes through the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove Forest of the Ganges delta which is teeming with exotic wildlife. (see BBC report on this link).

For 2018 the advertised schedule shows paddlers leaving Dhaka at 06:30 every day except Friday, arriving at 14:30 hrs the following day. The return is at 08:30 hrs, daily exept Sunday, arriving at 05:00 hrs on the following morning.

There are believed to be four "classic" vessels in service on this route, Mahsud, Ostrich, Tern and Lepcha at the time of writing - June 2018. All were built and engined by Denny of Dumbarton, Scotland

Mahsud (1929)

----- Builder's yard no 1227 for the Rivers Steam Navigation Co : 235 ft x 30 ft x 9 ft - Triple expansion diagonal 41 in, 25.5 in, 16 in x 63 in - engine no 977.

Ostrich (1929)

----- Builder's yard no 1228 for the India General Navigation Co : 235 ft x 30 ft x 9 ft - Triple expansion diagonal 41 in, 25.5 in, 16 in x 63 in - engine no 978

Lepcha (1937)

----- Builder's yard no 1318 for the Rivers Steam Navigation Co : 190 ft x 25 ft x 8,6 ft, Triple expansion diagonal 41 in 25,5 in, 16 in x 54 in

Tern (1948/9)

----- Builder's yard no 1419 for the India General Navigation Co : 200 ft x 26 ft x 8.6 ft - Triple expansion diagonal 41 in, 25.5 in, 16 in x 54 in - engine no 1165 

These old ships remain on this flagship passenger service as the operators are constantly short of new vessels due to financial constraints. The ships are not fully reliable and lack of availablity is often compounded by ships being out of service due to damage sustained on the river, either at river banks or on sandbanks - the rivers are notoriously dangerous, especially during cyclone weather and is susceptible to flooding. Also, being a busy waterway, there are frequent tragedies due to collisions and capsising of overcrowded ferries. Whilst these vessels have survived the tribulations and are amongst the safest in operation, one recent example shows how serious these incidents can be :
Lepcha was out of service in early 2006 having been damaged in a collision with a private boat (MV Abigail) on January 9th, an accident which claimed 2 lives and left a further 20 people injured. At the time, the Rocket service was reduced to 4 departures in the week due to lack of vessels available to provide cover.

Historically, services in the area, on the lower Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers were in the hands of two companies, the Rivers Steam Navigation Company and the India General Navigation & Railway Company. Mahsud and Lepcha were delivered to the former, Ostrich and Tern to the latter. From 1889, these companies worked closely together originally under the government of British India, independent Pakistan, then independent Bangladesh. Their surviving operations were nationalised by the Bangladesh government in 1972


Click here for Bangladeshi paddle steamers no longer in service

Bangladesh Rocket in Nov 2010 by carlton Browne.jpg


View of a Rocket paddle steamer taken in November 2010 and kindly made available for publication by photohgrapher Carlton Browne under Creative Commons Licence : http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/deed.en_GB

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