Chinese ferries to sail in a week – Benn

Amid questions about the costs entailed, Minister of Works Robeson Benn said the Sabanto and Kanawan – the two roll on/roll off gift ferries from China – will go into operation in one week’s time.

He made the disclosure yesterday during his budget debate presentation in the National Assembly. Marine engineers and other observers have expressed concern over the suitability of the new vessels and its fuel consumption. The ferries arrived in Guyana in December 2011.

Officials of the Govern-ment have not doubted that the fuel consumption of the two vessels will be significantly more than the present ferries that have been in use for about four decades.

The two ferries

The Opposition also came out against the operation of the ferries, expressing the concern that the maintenance cost would not be feasible.

The 2012 estimates have a provision of $500 million for the Transport and Harbours Department for this year, a 900 percent increase over the $50 million allocated for year 2011 and observers believe that this has to do with the high maintenance cost projected for the operation of the two ferries.

A Partnership for National Unity Member of Parliament Joseph Harmon said nearly all, if not all of a budgetary allocation of $717 million for the docking of vessels and acquisition of spares under the Transport and Harbours Department will be used on the two new Chinese ferries, even before they are put to use in the Essequibo River.

Speaking yesterday during his contribution to the ongoing budget debate in the National Assembly, Harmon said, “I am advised by reliable marine engineers and verily believe that a major portion of this money if not all of it will be needed to dry dock the ferries Sabanto and Kanawan,” he said.

“Mr. Speaker, the Govern-ment has acquired two ferry vessels…to operate between Parika and the now controversial stelling at Good Hope/ Supenaam. However, there was clearly ineffective planning given that the vessels have arrived several months ago and are still moored in the harbour at Georgetown, while the stelling at Parika is yet to be modified to create a roll on/roll off facility which these vessels require for operation,” he said.

He said that the vessels will soon have to be docked because of marine growth and the absence of the requisite mechanical device which was not included in the original specification. “Consequently, there is an additional cost to the taxpayers of this country even before benefits could accrue from the use of these vessels, he said.

Harmon pointed out that retired experts in the field have written letters to the press expressing reservations relative to the draught and other specifications of these vessels in light of the draught of the Essequibo River and the structural limitations of the Good Hope stelling.

But in response to these concerns, Benn said that it is hoped that the vessels will be put into operation shortly. He said that the Parika and Supenaam stellings will be ready to accommodate the vessels by that time.

“Mr. Speaker, we hope that shortly these vessels will come into operation. The Parika facility is completed. The Supenaam facility is soon to be completed and we welcome [the Opposition] to join us on [these boats] from China,” he said. “I don’t want the members to be coming to look a gift horse in the mouth. The vessels have already been cleaned, they have already been in dry dock for the little changes that had to be made on the vessels and they are waiting on the water to go to Parika and Supenaam within a week’s time,” said Benn.

With regard to marine transport, Harmon said that Government has failed to properly address a strategy for port infrastructure development. “The allocations in this budget are biased in favour of internal maritime transportation as against international shipping which has been long established as a catalyst for economic development.

“There is ongoing siltation of the Demerara ships channel which limits the vessels of a certain draught from calling at the port. This continues to affect the efficiency and competitiveness of the shipping industry. In this regard, Mr. Speaker, it is noted that the country’s main dredger MV Steve ‘N’ has been out of compliance for a very long time and there is an obvious sloth regarding its repair and maintenance,” Harmon said.

Further, he said that for over a decade, the shipping industry in Guyana has issued calls for the Transport and Harbours Department and Maritime Administration Department to acquire a vessel with the capability of carrying out hydrographic surveys, with fire fighting capabilities, and to do buoy tending “yet this budget has been presented without due regard to the acquisition of this critical development asset.”

Benn in his speech said that the Government through the Maritime Administration Department has run up a deficit with regard to dredging. “This deficit has been occasioned by…the decrepit state of the Steve N. We have just repaired the Steve N and we expect it to go into service soon but we anticipate that we would have to replace the equipment and that it what we are working on,” said Benn. He said Guyana has approached the maritime authorities of Trinidad and Tobago for assistance. He said that Government is of a mind to acquire pilot boats that can go 20 or 24 knots instead of only eight knots as is presently the case with the pilot boats in service.

Harmon criticised the Government for what he termed as inadequate search and rescue capability and the budget’s failure to address this. “Mr. Speaker, as a nation we have to show in the budgetary allocations we make that we are serious about our fisher folks [who suffer at the hands of pirates] and visits by high officials to commiserate with families will not do,” said Harmon.

To this Benn said that Government has made tremendous efforts in the recent incidents to bring succour and help to those persons who were in distress on the high seas. He said that there was never a search and rescue outfit in the maritime administration prior to recent years. “There is a search and rescue centre which is mobilised every time an incident occurs,” Benn said. He said that the Maritime Adminis-tration Department has shown tremendous strides in being able to develop the maritime issues related to Guyana.

Harmon then called for the Government to resuscitate the Central Transport Planning Unit in the Ministry of Works to give greater focus and direction to a well structured and integrated approach to transport infrastructure development and management.

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