Transport Minister Robeson Benn says the MV Kimbia will return to service by August 15, enabling the full resumption of the ferry service to Region One.
Benn made this disclosure in written responses to questions posed in the National Assembly by APNU MPs Jennifer Wade and Annette Ferguson.
Ferguson asked why there is only one ferry providing service to North West residents once a month and Wade asked about plans to ensure the ferry to Kumaka operates on a fortnightly schedule, in order to reduce losses suffered by businesspersons as a result of the current delays and the lack of a proper schedule.
In a written response, Benn explained that the Kimbia, which is the designated vessel for Mabaruma, had been “under extensive docking works for the past months” at GNIC and would return to service by August 15. He added that the MV Lady Northcote, which operates the Port Kaituma route, is assisting with the Mabaruma Service.
Ferguson also asked why the ferry takes almost 36 hours to reach its final destination from Georgetown but Benn denied that any vessel would take so long. He clarified that the vessel took approximately 25 hours to complete the trip but added that discharging of cargo at Morawhanna en route and the inclement weather conditions recently have added “delay time” to the trip.
Asked by Ferguson whether there was any consideration of assigning another ferry to ply the Mabaruma District route to relieve the travelling woes of residents of Mabaruma and its sub-regions, the minister said there was none and reiterated that the Kimbia would be back in service by August 15. He did again note that a new vessel was being acquired that would service the Region One route in 2014, “so as to upgrade the comfort, reduce time, and improve serviceability of this route.”
Benn told Stabroek News on Tuesday that the Kimbia was over 70 years old and finding parts has been a difficult process. He had noted that the fact that the ferry was able to still operate was a testament to the hard work and abilities of the service crew and engineers. He noted that while vessel was docked, private vessels still operated the area albeit at far more expensive service charges.
Benn had said that one of the main issues with the ferry was that local businesses would take advantage of the cheap service charge and load the Kimbia with goods. The low cost was due to a subsidy, he noted, adding that it was residents who were supposed to be benefitting from the ferry prices and not merchants and businesses who could afford to hire private vessels. As a result, he said his ministry was looking into ways to ensure that residents who used the vessel as primary transportation were not pushed out by merchants. In March, Benn had said the Kimbia, which has served the north west for over two decades, may be on its last general docking.
Benn also said the Lady Northcote had mechanical issues with the winch used to load goods, explaining that like with the Kimbia the age of the vessel was problematic as getting parts was near to impossible and that commissioning their manufacture took time.
Benn noted that service to the North West District was only recently restored and that persons utilising the service had to be a bit more understanding that the ministry was working within its capacity.