T&HD unable to explain erratic Essequibo ferry crossing

– after family’s Christmas charity almost ruined

A Georgetown family with roots in Essequibo, who had made plans to host a party for needy children on the Essequibo Coast on Decem-ber 9, almost had those plans overturned by the capricious operation of the Essequibo ferry.

Though they were able to travel the following day, they have expressed disappointment at the faulty system and the uncharitable and unaccommodating ferry captain, whose actions resulted in over 100 children being kept waiting for hours for the arrival of Christmas goodies at the Essequibo Coast location.

Several attempts made by this newspaper over the past three weeks to obtain a comment from the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) or a ferry schedule have proved futile.

The family had made plans to travel to the Essequibo Coast on Saturday December 8 and had booked a place on the MV Sabanto, one of the ferries gifted the Government of Guyana by the Chinese Government, which was scheduled to leave the Parika Stelling for Supenaam at 11:30 that evening.

Late that afternoon, they learned through a friend who works in the system that the departure schedule had been changed without notice and that the MV Malali would be making the trip to Supenaam leaving at 8 pm instead.

Photos showing the space available on the MV Malali on December 8, 2012
Photos showing the space available on the MV Malali on December 8, 2012

Determined to make the charity event a reality, Godfrey Thomas along with his mother, sister and uncle left Georgetown and raced to the Parika Stelling, arriving around 7.45 pm, only to find that the board which vehicles drive over to get onto the vessel had already been removed.

Thomas said he noticed members of the Malali crew on the wharf and explained the situation to them. He said the men told him they were willing to assist him, but the captain of the vessel would have to give the “go ahead”.

Thomas said he approached the man, who gave his name as Captain Hope and asked if it was possible for the board to be replaced for him to board the vessel, but he bluntly said no. There was a truck parked in the middle of the vessel, which would have had to be moved.

Thomas said he practically begged the captain to let his vehicle board the ship, but the captain maintained that he would not move the truck for him to board the vessel. He said that after a while the captain told him that an additional reason he could not be allowed to board the vessel was because there were no more parking spaces for vehicles.

Photos showing the space available on the MV Malali on December 8, 2012
Photos showing the space available on the MV Malali on December 8, 2012

But Thomas said that he walked onto the vessel via the passenger gangway, which was still connected to the vessel and discovered that there was sufficient space on the vessel for several more vehicles. He said he then began to take pictures of the spaces, as well as the truck which was parked in the middle of the vessel.

Thomas said that when he began to take pictures, the driver of the truck asked if there was a problem, and then offered to move his truck so he could board the Malali.

He said he then went back to the captain to report his findings, and pleaded with the man yet again to allow him to board the vessel. This time, he said the captain, in a blatant untruth, told him that the driver of the truck could not be located.

This entire episode played out for over 15 minutes, after which the captain announced that it was time for the vessel to depart.

The family had no choice but to return to Georgetown and make the journey the following day, December 9. The children had been invited to the party at 2 pm and were waiting anxiously when the family finally arrived at minutes to 5.

After calling several times with no response, Stabroek News visited the Parika Stelling on December 18, where some of the staff explained that when there is a lack of traffic, as was the case on December 8, a decision is taken to utilise one of the smaller, old vessels as opposed to the MV Kanawan and/or MV Sabanto.

Calls were made to the T&HD to obtain the ferry schedule for the 18, but the reporter was told that the information would have to be solicited from the office at Parika.  Attempts were also made, while in Parika, to obtain a copy of the schedule but according to staff, there was no schedule available.

Observers have noted that not having a schedule would result in there not being enough traffic since persons would be unwilling to turn up at the stelling on the off chance that the ferry would be going.

It means too that the much touted Chinese ferries are being underutilised.

On December 19, 20 and 21 repeated calls were made to T&HD to solicit a comment from the officer in charge. On the December 19, Stabroek News was told that the Traffic Officer was in charge of these operations, but that she was in a meeting and unavailable for comment.

Contact was finally established with the Traffic Officer, who stated that she was on leave on December 8, and that any questions about incidents during this period would have to be directed to the Marclene Merchant, the institution’s General Manager. When calls were made to the Merchant’s office, this newspaper was told by an employee that she was not around.

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