Berbice protest to continue over withdrawal of pontoon

With no word from authorities on the removal of the pontoon that serviced the Rosignol/ New Amsterdam crossing, dissatisfied residents plan to protest the situation again today.

The pontoon, MB Sandaka, regularly transported about 300 schoolchildren but on Monday the Transport & Harbours Department (T&HD) pulled it out of operation, reportedly because of an engine problem.

Some parents of the school children told Stabroek News yesterday that they called Regional Chairman Harrinarine Baldeo to the Rosignol Stelling early yesterday morning and aired their concerns to him, but he could not provide answers. At the time of the chairman’s visit the boat was making its third trip and 40 children were cramped into it.

Harrinarine Baldeo

The angry parents demanded that the chairman go in to examine how many children were in the boat. However, as he attempted to enter the security guards barred him. One of the guards held on to the gate and by-the-time one of the regional officials finally managed to brace it open, the boat had already pulled off.

Contacted, the chairman told this newspaper that he listened to the concerns of the parents.

He said they informed him that the boat was too small and would “have to make many trips before all the children are rounded up for school. The parents want alternative methods of crossing…”

Baldeo said too that he was not in a position to comment because he “would have to seek clarification on the issue at other levels first.”

There is speculation that the pontoon was pulled out of operation because it developed engine problems. But the parents said that was not an excuse for replacing it with a much smaller boat.

The pointed out that before the Berbice Bridge was built, whenever one of the ferries encountered problems and it had to go to dry dock, T&HD would send a temporary vessel.

Students and parents waiting at the Rosignol stelling yesterday morning.

They are wondering why that was not done in this case and are demanding an explanation. Others said they were told that the barge was too costly for T&HD to operate. They lamented that if that were the case, the authorities should have “provided buses instead – not speedboat.”

They also suggested that the some of the route 56 minibuses could be used on a contractual basis and pay a toll of $1,000 instead of the regular $2,200, just to facilitate the schoolchildren at a cheaper cost.

Because of the long time some of the children had to wait before they could board the speedboat, they are forced to cross the bridge. Other students said they were “scared because the boat was swaying too much” and would not travel with it again.

At the moment, the children are paying $400 per day to cross compared with the $200 per month using the pontoon. Parents said the situation has resulted in further financial constraints.
A parent also called a regional official of Region Six to visit the stelling so he could highlight their plight on his locally-aired television programme on Thursday evenings.

They also wanted him to “support us in our fight.” The parent was disappointed when the official responded that “y’all had [Khemraj] Ramjattan [leader of the Alliance For Change] there already; why you calling me?” He then disconnected the call.

Not getting answers from the authorities and worried about their children’s safety, the parents decided that they would make their voices heard again through the protest.

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