Tragedy on the Pomeroon

Death came within a flash and violently to six occupants of a boat in the Pomeroon River on Tuesday. As dusk fell and it rained, the lives of boat captain Harrinarine Bhagwandin and his nephew Vincent Singh, 40, both of Abrams Creek; Velda Rodrigues, 50, and her son Shawn Rodrigues, 14, also of Abrams Creek; and Rajkumar Singh, 14, and his sister Amerita Singh, 10, of Charity Housing Scheme, Essequibo Coast,  were horrifically snuffed out after the craft  they were travelling in collided with another operated by the Region Two administration. A boy,  Eli Orlando Rodrigues was the lone survivor from the ill-fated boat while there were thankfully no casualties on the regional boat.

Life in all of its vivacious and humdrum strands weaved together that tragic day. Amerita, at her insistence,  and Rajkumar were headed to Abrams Creek to spend the holidays with their grandma. Bhagwandin was going about his transportation business while the boat assigned to the region was ferrying staff of the One Laptop Per Family programme who had just completed the distribution of computers.

Not since the Corentyne River tragedy of October 2008 when seven perished died in a backtrack trip has there been such a deadly incident. The police are presumably conducting an investigation to determine whether there was any criminal conduct in the collision. It also behoves the maritime authorities and the Ministry of Public Works to undertake a careful investigation into this matter. It is the only way to honour the memory of those who perished last Tuesday.

The public will have reservations about whether the authorities will do a rigorous investigation and, more importantly, act upon the recommendations. In recent years there have been many fatal riverain accidents but no regular release of reports by the maritime authorities setting out culpability if any and emphasizing rules for the safe use of the rivers.
In a news item in the June 19, 2011 edition of SN headed `Authorities silent on burgeoning speedboat accidents’, this newspaper reported as follows:

“The Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) and the Sea and River Defence Unit as well as the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) are tasked with enforcing regulations in relation to the safety of vessels, the conduct of operators of same, including passenger vessels and the general maintenance of public transportation ports along the main rivers.
“Over the past decade there have been a number of incidents involving passenger boats as well as private boats which operate in Guyana waters. While the river transportation regulations are said to be enforced by the regulators, river accidents continue to occur and no information is made public regarding the investigations into these.

“This newspaper has made numerous unsuccessful attempts to obtain a comment or information from MARAD and calls to the office of the head of the unit Claudette Rogers end with persons saying she is in a meeting or simply not available. Transport Minister Robeson Benn had noted at (a) press briefing late last year that MARAD, as the designated agency which overlooks the transportation sector, has been carrying out its mandate to ensure regulations relative to the sector are enforced.”

The onus is on the Public Works Ministry and MARAD to convince the public that all relevant steps are being taken to assure safety on the rivers and wherever there is negligent behaviour leading to death, injury or damage that the guilty parties are prosecuted. The present case involves a boat from the Regional Administration (Pomeroon/Supenaam) and given the close relationship between this region and central government it is important that the authorities are seen as doing their utmost to ensure that there is no accusation of improper influence.

The families of the deceased and the public deserve answers to a whole host of questions.
*Did the regional boat exercise due care and caution as it entered the waterway on which the ill-fated boat was travelling?
*Given the poor visibility on the evening in question were the craft equipped with the requisite illumination to ensure safe passage on the river?

*Were the passengers on both craft equipped with life-jackets?
*Did the regional boat leave the scene immediately after the collision?
*What steps were taken to immediately render assistance to the stricken boat?
There is an abundance of witnesses to provide answers to these questions. There were over a dozen people on board the regional boat, people in the vicinity and others who rushed to the rescue of the victims.

What is also necessary is immediate action by the Ministry and MARAD to take practical steps to ensure safer navigation of the rivers and to educate the users of the rivers of their responsibilities. Rivers are a lifeline for riverain residents and some users are not accustomed to the heavier traffic that is now witnessed in some of these areas.

A signal failure of this government is the lack of enforcement of rules, regulations and laws. It shows no energy, drive or initiative. It is unclear what efforts MARAD had previously taken to get users of the river to operate in a safer manner. We humbly suggest that it needs to get on the rivers and make its presence felt. Above all, there must be strict enforcement of river traffic rules.

The loss visited upon the families in this Pomeroon tragedy is beyond repair. It may help them in some small measure if there is legislative action to ensure there isn’t a recurrence.

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