Though speedboat operators had started to ply the Suriname/Guyana ‘backtrack’ route about three weeks ago the service only became fully operational from last Friday.
A policeman from Suriname told Stabroek News recently that a meeting was held with the boat owners from both countries on Thursday and regulations had been put in place.
Failing to comply, he said, can result in the operators facing a ban or fine.
The operators, who are required to work from 7 am to 6 pm, were informed that two more boat owners have registered and that they would now have to work on a term system.
Further they can only load and offload from one point in Suriname and some boat owners from that country who were guilty of contravening this can face a ban if caught.
A passenger pays $1500 to travel either way. The authorities in Suriname had begun registering boat operators and had laid down minimum safety standards for the vessels in order to regulate the backtrack route. This followed a mishap in the Corentyne River last year, when two Guyanese women drowned after the propeller of the boat they were travelling in got snagged in a fishing seine and sank.
Guyanese operators are only allowed to transport passengers to Nickerie, but they cannot solicit passengers coming to Guyana. The same system applies for the Surinamese operators who will only transport passengers to Guyana and then leave.
Further the boats can only carry eight passengers, instead of 15 and they must be equipped with lifejackets.
The service was recently disrupted because of a fight among speedboat operators in Suriname, resulting in many businesspersons in both countries complaining of poor business and passengers being stranded.
At the meeting it was decided that should a fight break out again, the crossing would not be closed but the perpetrators would be banned from working.
The Suriname policeman said the service was officially reopened on Friday and referred to the boat owners working before that time as “the real backtrack.” He said they learnt that the owners exploited passengers and had been charging $100 to $150 [Suriname dollars] per person instead of $20.
Further the cop said during the time that the service was down they were given more work to patrol the waterways in an effort to stop the illegal operations but it had continued during the nights.
Boat owner, Fezal Mursaline who was present at the meeting told this newspaper he was pleased with the decision taken to “ban the persons who fight instead of punishing everyone.” He pointed out that even when the service was closed those persons still ended up working.
Mursaline had told this newspaper that the closure had seriously affected trade between the two countries. Apart from people importing items from Suriname, he said a lot of local products were being exported to that country through this route.
The Suriname official also reiterated this, saying “businesspersons in Suriname get a lot of sales from Guyanese and they had already started to complain about bad business. We cannot stop backtrack activities so we regularized it and put new systems in place.”
He also told this newspaper that the chairman of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, David Subnauth, had written to them on behalf of local businesspersons, to have the service restored.
Meanwhile, Mursaline said they got word from persons in Suriname to start working about three weeks ago but were only allowed to “make a few trips,” especially to facilitate persons who were stranded.
He had said he and the two other local operators would have had to attend a meeting with officials in Suriname to “sign up documents.”
A dispute among the boat owners forced the authorities in Suriname to close the service on October 4. Five days later it was reopened after the dispute was apparently settled. But the next day a fight again erupted among the operators and forced another closure of the service.
Small-scale traders who were “desperate to make a hustle” took the chance to traverse the water at nights. But not all of them got away with it as local police who were patrolling the waterways pulled in a few boats and seized their “goods.”
One grocery vendor told this newspaper that even though most of her items were finished, she would not take the chance to travel at nights since it was “dangerous because they don’t see where they going and end up in the sandbanks.”
She said the shortage of a lot of items that are usually bought in Suriname has resulted in persons “hiking” the prices for the little that they have. She had said that if the border is opened the prices would drop.