The Berbice Bridge Company Inc (BBCI) says the restrictions on vessels that can traverse under the bridge’s high span are intended to ensure public safety and avoid damage to the facility.
“If BBCI allowed unrestricted access through the high span it would not be long before a serious incident occurred which could result in serious injuries to persons and in the prolonged closure of the bridge,” the company said in a statement.
“It must be noted that safety cannot be compromised in any way. Every effort must be made to prevent loss of lives and injuries to those who use the bridge and damage to property,” it added.
When the bridge opened in December 2008, the BBCI explained, most small vessels, like tugs, barges and some vessels with shaped hulls, would transit either north or south under the high span. However, there were a series of incidents that resulted in vessels colliding with the bridge, causing both major and minor damages to the bridge’s sub and superstructure.
“As recently as last week, the MV Sandaka started drifting dangerously close to the bridge and the relevant authorities had to be and were written to about this matter,” the BBCI said. Some of the vessels using the river, it added, are not seaworthy and are piloted by unlicensed captains and sailors. As a result, these incidents have caused the insurance cost to increase significantly.
Every major bridge in the world, the company pointed out, has regulations defining the passage of vessels. The Berbice River Bridge Act (ACT No.3 of 2006) was enacted on November 11, 2009 to regulate the movement of vessels within the bridge zone.
It noted that in an effort to maximise safety for bridge and river traffic, all vessels had to book to transit through the retractor opening, except those belonging to the bauxite and sugar companies.
According to the BBCI, bauxite companies spent millions of US dollars to modify their fleet of vessels so that they can pass under the high span from the mines to the trans-shipment basin and vice versa. Further, in view of the importance of sugar to the national economy, a decision was taken to allow unladen sugar vessels to pass under the high span when southbound, provided that masts were below a certain height. All vessels with their masts above a defined height must pass through the retractor opening.
“In the latter part of 2011 and during the first quarter of 2012 some sugar vessels developed mechanical problems,” the BBCI, however, said, noting that on one occasion the propeller of one of the vessels fell off. BBCI said that the construction of these vessels, namely those with shaped hull and single propeller propulsion, increase the risk of collision with the bridge when they are fully laden and could cause significant damage to the cluster piles, pontoons, anchors, panels and transoms, thereby rendering the bridge unfit for its purpose.
On the other hand, flat bottom vessels, such as those operated by Oldendorff, have more stability and manoeuvrability in the water and adequate power and duplication in their navigational systems. “Moreover, should something go wrong while approaching the high span, Oldendorff’s vessels can deploy mitigation measures and their standby system can become operative,” BBCI said.