T&HD appointed unqualified captain to pilot ferry, union says

- vessel without working compass, GPS

General Manager of Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) Marclene Merchant should take full responsibility for the mishap of the MV Sabanto ferry, which ran aground in November last year, according to the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union, which also says the vessel does not have a working compass or GPS.

The union, in a statement, said it was Merchant who appointed an “uncertified employee” to work as captain on the Sabanto on September 1, 2014 and for the first two months “nothing went wrong, so nothing was said.”

On November 17, 2014, the ferry was travelling from Parika to Supenaam, Essequibo, when the captain lost control of the vessel, causing it to run aground at Wakenaam.

MV Sabanto stuck on Wakenaam last year (T&HD photo)
MV Sabanto stuck on Wakenaam last year (T&HD photo)

According to the union, the marine section of the T&HD was managed by a Marine Superintendent, who is a certified captain, but Merchant dismissed the officer and took over the duties herself in the second quarter of last year although she is not a certified captain.

After that, the statement said, she appointed the uncertified employee to captain the Sabanto.

The union charged that Merchant did not act in the interest of the crew and passengers when she put an officer, who is only qualified to captain a small vessel under 600 tonnes, to pilot the Sabanto, which is over 1,599 tonnes.

“It was a real challenge for that employee to work as captain. It was after midnight and the rain was pouring, the entire place was white with rain and visibility was poor. To compound the situation the… MV Sabanto, has no working compass, no working GPS and a malfunctioning radar,” it further said about the November 17 incident.

“A compass is an important instrument on a vessel that shows direction, the fact that the MV Sabanto has no compass to guide the master of that vessel is dangerous to everyone on board,” the union added, while warning that a recurrence is possible since the new captain is also faced with the absence of functioning navigational instruments.

The union further noted that Merchant was quoted as saying in a media report that the incident was as a result of human error, but later stated on another occasion that the captain had lost all sense of direction.

“The General Manager is incompetent when it comes to the affairs of Transport and Harbours Department and has no sense of direction for allowing a tug and pontoon mate to master a vessel like the MV Sabanto… with no navigating instruments to determine the position, course and distance travelled,” it added.

When contacted yesterday for a reaction to the union, Merchant said she was unable to offer a comment at the time.

The T&HD had reported that the captain was fired, while his helmsman was suspended from duty for a month following the incident.

According to the statement, restricted visibility had caused the captain and the lookouts to lose direction and position. The captain, the statement said, failed to drop anchor and wait for the weather to improve, thus causing the accident.

The Sabanto is scheduled to be docked this year for critical servicing.


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