Several dozen persons were last evening stranded on board the North West ferry MV Kimbia, which broke down soon after departing Port Georgetown for the hinterland.
The vessel, about 70 years old, is scheduled to depart for Kumaka in the Mabaruma Sub-Region at 8 am today as technicians were working overtime last evening to remedy the problem.
Reports are that that the vessel was affected by a recurring mechanical problem with a generator on board that has plagued its operation on the high seas in recent months.
The vessel departed the Kingston Ferry stelling shortly after 1pm yesterday. But less than 20 minutes later, while leaving the Demerara River channel for the Atlantic Ocean, the generator on board mal-functioned. An hour later, the vessel proceeded back to its departure point at Kingston, with several upset passengers on board.
This newspaper made several unsuccessful attempts yesterday afternoon and last evening to reach Transport Minister Robeson Benn for a comment on the situation as well as on the state of the other North West ferry, the MV Lady Northcote, which caught afire last Saturday.
One passenger on board the MV Kimbia told Stabroek News yesterday that many expressed disgust at the “inconsiderate attitude” of the staff of the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD). The man, who asked not to be named, said that passengers stood around the vessel for hours yesterday before they were told around twilight that it would not be departing until at 8 am today. “They got we standing there and not saying anything …that is how you treat people?” he asked.
The man, who lives at Mahaica, noted that he had perishable goods aboard that may not last the trip to Kumaka and he may suffer huge losses.
He said that sometime during yesterday afternoon, passengers were told that the problem was being fixed and that “the boat might leave before night.”
“This boat is the main means for people reach North West, other than Lady Northcote, and is two old boat the government forcing pon we North West people,” he said.
Another passenger, who lives at Barabina Hill, stated that many persons were left with no alternative but to sleep on board the vessel last evening while those who could have afforded it, returned to their respective homes. “We want the government to know that we putting them on notice… they bring two ferry from China and put both in Essequibo. Now, what happen to us in North West? They promise we since 1992 when [Harripersaud] Nokta was minister that we gon get a new ferry,” she argued.
She added that the government had stated that the two Chinese vessels are not ocean-going vessels. However, she added, “They getting revenue from both Northcote and Kimbia and people travelling all the time… why they treating us like that.”
The woman said that the authorities may one day regret not investing in a new vessel for the route when one considers the age of the MV Kimbia. “This boat so old we have to hope it never break down when it out there in that Atlantic, because the waves alone… it might not be nice and many lives will be at stake,” the woman stated.
When this newspaper visited the Kingston wharf yesterday, passengers stood with worried looks on their faces while others relaxed in their hammocks slung at various parts of the ship. The crew of the vessel was busy working to fix the problem and staff of the T&HD later asked members of the media to leave the area.
Last evening, several passengers complained that they were not offered any meals or water by the staff of the T&HD. One passenger told this newspaper that they were told that they may receive food and water today. He said that many were awaiting assistance from their relatives.
The MV Kimbia is said to be one of the oldest vessels in the maritime public transport system. It is reported to have been on the waters locally since the 1940s. The vessel, which is capable of ferrying a total of 200 passengers, has been plying the North West route for almost two decades now on a fortnightly basis.
It is seen as an important form of transportation by residents in the North West District, since it transports a variety of perishable and non-perishable goods. Trucks, minibuses and cars are transported on almost each trip to and from the city to the interior location on board the ferry.
On Saturday last, a fire on board the MV Lady Northcote, which plies the Georgetown-Port Kaituma route, created a scare for passengers as the 69-year old vessel was some five minutes away from the city. Reports are that the engine room of the Lady Northcote caught afire after diesel leaked from a faulty valve onto an exhaust manifold. There were no injuries and damage was minimal but the flames and smoke sparked panic among the 49 passengers. The fire was brought under control by the crew and subsequently towed to the wharf.
There have been mounting calls over the years for the two vessels to be replaced even as government commits to spending millions of dollars almost yearly to repair and service the vessels. The T&HD had noted in the past that the cost to maintain its fleet was high, with spares being a major factor in the cost of maintenance. The agency also complained about a lack of qualified personnel, mainly engineers, to effectively manage the maintenance of the vessels.
Benn said that government has looked at a number of options for replacing the old vessels but all of them are expensive. He added that it is looking at acquiring either a new or used vessel. “Within a year or 18 months we should have a firm position or action on it,” he said.