In 2001, a ship named Southern Queen caught fire at Chattogram port's Jetty no 1.
In a bid to save the vessel, and also to stop the fuel from burning, the port authority sank it deliberately by pumping water into it.
By the following morning, nothing but the masts of the vessel were visible. The entire ship was underwater.
Golam Sarwar, an ex-mariner, was painfully watching the debacle. Sarwar had left his marine life only a few years back to start a ship repair company called 'Prantik'.
As a sailor himself, he does not like to see ships sink.
"A thought crossed my mind. If someone gave me the job to lift up this vessel, what would I do?" Sarwar told The Business Standard.
Three days after the vessel sank, he got a call from an insurance surveyor. He was also an acquaintance. Surprisingly, the surveyor said they were looking for a salvage contractor.
"I told him that I had not done any salvage work before. But he insisted that I come and have a look," Sarwar said.
Since the ex-mariner had been thinking about how the ship could be raised, he already had the "tide and lifting method" in mind when they asked him for a methodology.
"The difference of water height in Bangladesh during low and high tide is often four to five metres. So, it was about using the force of the water. If we tied it in low tide and pushed it up in high tide to shallow water, we could pump the rest up," he explained.
Sarwar submitted a technical proposal and quotation. He said his first quotation was only $300,00, which was substantially lower than the regular market price.
"I had no idea about the price," he said. "My second quotation was for three million US dollars," he added.
Sarwar's Prantik was the sole company to pitch from Bangladesh and won the assignment. Thus, the country's first-ever salvage company began to operate.
Sarwar believes that it was his confidence that did it for him.
"If you do not have the confidence, no matter how much technical capacity you have, you cannot do it. Funding and other technical issues will eventually fall into place. But if you do not believe in your own methodology, it will not work," the founder said, sharing his mantra for success.
Prantik eventually refloated the Southern Queen vessel in three months. His methodology was praised in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong's engineering magazines.
There are only a few salvage companies in Bangladesh today. Sarwar said Prantik is the only local salvage company recognised by the International Salvage Union (ISU).
"Today when any foreign-bound ship is damaged and the channel gets blocked; we get instant calls. Moreover, we do rescue operations for the Chattogram port authority, navy and the coast guard as well," Sarwar mentioned.
Why the Mariner joined the business
Marine engineer Golam Sarwar quit the sea on October 8, 1998, after 15 years of sailing. He launched his business the very next day.
"Never had I seen a trade license before that day. I did not know anything about business. My father was a lawyer. There was nobody in my family in business either," Sarwar said.
After passing from Bangladesh Maritime Academy in 1984, he joined the Bangladesh Shipping Corporation. Three years later, he joined a foreign company and worked on various vessels as chief engineer for nearly 10 years.
Inexperienced but emboldened by confidence and ambition to do exciting things with a keen eye for untapped possibilities, Sarwar entered a business that few before him dared to get into.
Back then, the crane or lifting equipment used in Bangladesh did not have a certification body. Since it was a very heavy-duty task, miscalculation of weight would cause fatal accidents, and lead to massive losses.
Also, Bangladesh had no salvage companies either.
"Salvage is challenging in Bangladesh due to high currents, visibility issues and other calamities. These conditions often result in maritime casualties.
Everyone fears the water, especially when it comes to diving. We have some divers in the navy. But they do not do commercial diving," he explained.
Sarwar realised the maritime services and facilities in Bangladesh were not enough. Hence, he decided to put his weight behind this less tried business route.
Prantik's business clout
Although salvage is one the largest parts of Prantik, they are venturing into a lot of other marine works too.
While Prantik's business began with ship repairing and ship crew recruiting, the company is now in the shipbuilding business. Moreover, it builds jetties and has many ongoing on and off-shore engineering projects, cryogenic tank fabrication projects, testing services, water weight load tests, lifeboat servicing, etc.
Furthermore, they have been engaged in the construction of a railway bridge on the Jamuna river equipment mobilisation project where they are mobilising the safety and maintenance of 36 vessels from Chattogram port to the Jamuna.
How big is your business? We asked Sarwar.
"It is worth a couple of millions," Sarwar calculated, although he did not elaborate further.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
Sarwar responded that his biggest challenge was the tendency of Bangladesh's private sector to "not honour the contract."
"We often do not receive the money on time. So it becomes tough to do business in good faith. As a result, 95 percent of my businesses are with foreigners. There is no hassle with them because they respect the contract," he explained.
Although the company began its journey with only three to four people, it now has around 150 employees. Still, human resource remains a big issue for Prantik as they are an off-the-track company, said Sarwar.
Its founder shared his vision for the future.
"After we successfully conducted our first salvage assignment, we created a buzz and people came to know about us. SMIT Salvage, one of the major salvage companies from the Netherlands, was the first foreign company to offer us to become a partner.
Ever since, we have partnered with many other global leaders. We still have a long way to go. We want to emerge as a leading global salvage company," Sarwar added.
"Salvaging is my passion, not just business. Luckily, where there is a passion, business follows," he concluded.