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March 2015 : Paddlers still exist in Bangladesh operated by Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation on the famous "Rocket" service on the Buriganga River from Dhaka (Sadarghat Ferry terminal) to Khulna with ten 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. Vessels offer accommodation in three classes and are patronised by regular paying ferry passengers and tourists sailing as part of organised holiday tours. 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).
In 2008, Rocket Steamers Mahsud, Ostrich and Tern were supplemented by the smaller motor vessel Sela to maintain a service of six departures a week (two for each vessel, with Tern and Sela substituting for each other). From January 2009, departures were increased to seven per week but with four terminating at Morelganj.

There are believed to be four "classic" vessels in service on this route, Mahsud, Ostrich, Tern and Lepcha (originally steamers but now dieselised) at the time of writing - March 2015.


Date Built


Internet Photos



Assembled by the Garden Reach Workshop in Calcutta and renovated by Dockyard & Engineering Works Ltd at Narayanganj in 1995.








Length : 194 ft x breadth : 26 ft - 460 GRT originally Triple Expansion Diagonal, coal fired but later fitted with Crossley diesels. The design was based on that of Lepcha of 1937. The designed passenger capacity was 1770 with 970  allowed overnight. 120 tonnes of cargo could be carried




 Converted to diesel in 1995


These vessels were built by Denny at Dumbarton. They followed : Hazara, Ghilzai, Galla, Galiana (all from Denny's in 1927) and Chinsura and Chunar (built by the India General Navigation Company at Calcutta, but with engines supplied by Denny). 

Tern was one of four identical ships delivered from Denny at Dumbarton in 1948, leaving Scotland in late 1948 with their machinery arriving separately the following summer. Tern and Teal were operated by the India General company and Irani and Mazbi by the Rivers company. In 1949 Denny delivered the larger paddler Ghazi (630 GRT, 235 ft long) to the Rivers company.

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 and finally, their surviving operations were nationalised by the Bangladesh government in 1972 

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 :

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