Sundarban-10, the country's biggest luxury passenger vessel with 16,000 square feet space, was launched in 2016.
The four-storied vessel was a new challenge for its owner Saidur Rahman Rintu because many of his friends had said that the launch business would soon decline after the completion of the Padma Bridge.
Proving his friends wrong, the huge investment brought good luck for Saidur Rahman as Sundarban-10, with its 300 feet length and 50 feet width, became a new sensation on the river route from Dhaka to Barishal.
The vessel has a coronary care unit, food court, a VIP-duplex business class cabin and many other facilities. It also has radar, a global positioning system (GPS), an electro-hydraulic system, and the ability to sail in heavy fog.
It can carry 1300 passengers.
Saidur Rahman Rintu, also the vice-president of Bangladesh Passengers' Launch Owners Association, told The Business Standard, "Passengers want a comfortable journey. I tried to make the launch journey more comfortable than it was before."
He said, "The Padma Bridge is a blessing for the people of southern districts, but launch owners were afraid that it would affect their business. Based on information collected from different quarters, realised that the Padma Bridge will not hinder our business."
"Now I am planning to build another luxury vessel to meet the demand," he added.
Currently at least eight modern luxury vessels out of a total 70 launches are running on the Dhaka-Barishal route. The cost of such luxury launches is about Tk30 to 40 crores each.
Md Firoz Alam built a luxury vessel named Manami in 2017.
He told The Business Standard that the demand for luxury launches has been increasing day by day. "I am happy about operating the launch. I now make a profit. I am also trying to build another launch," he said.
"We will not lose passengers after the Padma Bridge is opened. In fact, the number of passengers will increase. Some people will use the bridge, but many of them will use the river route," he added.
Many still believe that the road and rail network of the Padma Bridge will take away all the river route passengers of the southern region. But private launch owners and shipping ministry officials think the launch business will not be affected after the Padma Bridge is opened.
The number of launches running on different river routes of the country has increased in the last few decades. In 2005, only two passenger launches were operating on the Dhaka-Tazumoddin-Hatia route. Now there are eight launches on the route.
Many other routes in southern districts also witnessed a rise in the number of vessels, especially on the Barishal, Borguna, Pirojpur, Patuakhali and Jhalokathi routes as passengers feel comfortable on the launches and the cost is also low.
It takes at least six hours to go from Dhaka to Barishal and other southern districts by bus. The cost ranges from Tk500 to Tk1200 depending on the quality of the buses.
On the other hand, a passenger can reach home in seven to nine hours by launch at a cost of only Tk200. First class costs about Tk1000.
Rakibul Hasan Chowdhury, a passenger, told The Business Standard that he feels comfortable using the river route. He usually takes a VIP cabin to get home in a relaxed mood.
"I go home four or five times a year. I consider a launch as the best form of transportation in the country. So, I enjoy it," he said.
The VIP cabin is the most comfortable and secure place on a launch. It has all the facilities of a five-star hotel's VIP room.
Rahim Khan, another passenger on the deck, said, "I hold a small job in Dhaka. I go to Barishal frequently by launch. There was a huge risk during storms and dense fog before, but now there are no such risks."
Md Noman, a master of a launch named Tashreef-3, said, "We have modern equipment nowadays. The fitness of the vessels has also been improved. Now we can avoid any unwanted accident."
Officials from the Department of Shipping said the demand for passenger launches will also increase after the Padma Bridge is opened. But the launches must be better than they were before in terms of service and safety features.
"People from southern districts are used to travelling by launch. They will always prefer a journey by launch," said the director general of the Department of Shipping, Commodore Syed Ariful Islam.
"It will be cheaper to travel by launch than by bus or other vehicles. So, the Department of Shipping's observation is that passengers will not forsake launches if the owners provide good service," he added.
Currently, more than 700 passenger launches ply along the rivers of the country. Of them, about 200 operate from Dhaka, and at least 70 run on the Dhaka-Barishal route.
Sources at the Bangladesh Passengers' Launch Owners Association said big launches, especially three-storied ones, were introduced in Bangladesh after 1985. Since then the service and capacity of passenger launches has increased.
Motorised vessels were first introduced in Bangladesh more than 150 years ago during the colonial British-India period.
At the tail end of the nineteenth century (1880-1899) as many as 898 vessels used to ply on the route from Calcutta to Khulna through the Sundarbans every year.