Minister Robeson Benn yesterday tried to quell fears over the speedboat service introduced for the Berbice River, following the removal of the pontoon MB Sandaka.
“It is safe, fundamentally… If you, as a parent or individual, believe that travelling on the boat is not safe, don’t use it .That’s your choice. You have an alternative,” Benn told a small meeting at Rosignol Ferry Stelling. “I am a technical person. I believe as Minister that I pay attention to the issue of safety. I place my political career and technical career on the line,” he added.
The meeting saw a tense exchange between Benn and the almost three dozen residents who attended. Afterward, Chate Ramnauth, a spokesperson for residents declared that the minister attended the meeting as a dictator. “He had no solution to our problems. We, the parents, suffer a great lot to get our children to school. The boat is small. It does not have the capacity to shuttle the demand which was ferried on MB Sandaka. The pontoon must come back,” he said.
Benn had informed that the MB Sandaka is operating between Parika and Supenaam, replacing other vessels.
As a result, the Transport and Harbours Department has put in place the 26-seater Alford C to cater for commuters travelling between Rosignol and New Amsterdam.
He said with the availability of a larger vessel, a Berbice river service will commence in three months and it will also provide for a Rosignol/New Amsterdam crossing.
Benn told the residents at the meeting that while he understood their anxieties since they were accustomed to the larger boats, thousands travel across the more challenging Demerara and Essequibo rivers with small boats. He also noted that an approach had been made to the Maritime Administration Department to allow fishing boats to be used to ferry people across the river. However, this was denied, he said, in light of safety concerns. He also noted that the owner of the launch which previously plied the route from New Amsterdam to Blairmont had also made an approach, but this too was denied owing to cost.
In addition to fears about the safety of the speedboat, which is similar to what plies the routes between Stabroek and Vreed-en-Hoop, Parika and Supenaam, and Parika and Bartica, there are also concerns over the additional cost to commuters and its limited passenger capacity, in light of the hundreds of students who have to cross the river to attend school.
“All the students cannot cross with the bridge. Parents could ill afford it. We don’t want to hear about at Parika and elsewhere, we want the pontoon,” one of the attendees said.
However, Benn noted that the boat takes 52 passengers per round trip and is faster than the pontoon, allowing it to make 10 to 12 trips per day. He added that the number of trips would be reduced as school closes this week.
As it related to the increased cost for students—which some said had gone from a $200 per month student contract to $120 roundtrip fare per day—Benn said the monthly contracts were to be sold until further notice. An official also denied claims by parents that the contracts were not sold since the operation of the speedboat.