The Essequibo Chamber of Commerce wants the damaged ramp at the Supenaam Stelling to be fixed urgently since it has resulted in undue delays and a downturn in trade.
The Chamber’s President Deleep Singh told Stabroek News that he is not sure why the ramp is taking so long to be fixed but noted that it should have been treated as an emergency.
Passengers had told Stabroek News that around 7.30 pm on July 27, the MV Sabanto was about to moor when it rushed into the stelling at a fast rate and caused damage to the ramp.
They were delayed for more than an hour and were relieved when they were finally able to disembark after employees completed emergency works to fix the ramp temporarily.
A statement from the Ministry of Public Infra-structure the same night had said that a team from the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) had been deployed to assess the damage.
Commuters told this newspaper that while they noticed people visiting and examining the ramp, no work has commenced.
A regional official had told this newspaper that “there seems to be some inconsistencies” in the ferry operation. He wrote to the ministry citing the concerns but received no response, he said.
Ever since the collision, the new vessels, the MV Sabanto and MV Kanawan, are only accommodating light vehicles, while the MV Makouria and MV Malali have been facilitating the crossing of the trucks.
There is now a large volume of vehicles waiting at both stellings and the truck drivers complained that the ferry service is causing a lot of frustration. They said when they leave home, it takes them up to four days before they return. With the Sabanto and the Kanawan, they said, they got back at least by the following day.
“The long delay in bringing back supplies to the region puts an additional cost on our products and consumers are feeling the effects,” Singh said.
“Region 2 is an agro-based region and farmers have to take their produce to Georgetown and they suffer in the long run… The economics of time is involved, additional labour is also involved,” he added.
He noted that unlike the Demerara and Berbice rivers, they cannot talk about bridging the Essequibo River so “everyone depends on the ferry. We were happy to have the Chinese ferry but they [T&HD] need to care them so they can last a long time.”
He also called on the T&HD to avoid such situations from occurring again and recommended that they “manage the vessel efficiently… We suffered enough and we want to go forward, not backward.”
According to Singh, “There is a downturn in the economy in the region and the ferry mishap has put additional pressure. They [T&HD] need to put harsher penalties on the captains and operators so that these problems would not reoccur. They must be held accountable for what happened.”
He believes that the ramp was damaged because of “carelessness and the lack of sober-mindedness and efficient people to manage it.”
The drivers also told Stabroek News that the older boats cannot accommodate the amount of vehicles because the stellings do not have proper stage boards.
The trucks were limited to a weight of 12 tonnes, including the cargo, but the owners said that cannot compensate them for their expenses.
The lamented that they read in the newspapers that everything is back to normal but that is not the case.
According to them, the arrangement was that the Kanawan and the Sabanto would only take the light vehicles and that the Makouria and Malali would transport the trucks only.
However, they said, small vehicles were still allowed on those boats and that it was not fair.
One truck driver said he was already “losing money” due to the time he spent travelling and he “still have to spend extra on food. The money we wuking fah, we gat to eat it and drink it out back; we can’t ker it home fuh we family….”
The driver was also annoyed that the T&HD workers “would leave back trucks to accommodate the smaller vehicles but the boat for the small vehicles already gone.”
He pointed out that the ramp is causing a lot of inconvenience, with the entire trip taking up to four days, whereas with the Sabanto and the Kanawan, they would return the following day after transacting business.
They also felt hopeless as there was “no one who would listen to our complaints, nobody would listen to us.”
The drivers also accused the T&HD workers of “favouritism,” because they would allow some drivers to park inside the stelling while others have to park outside.
Meanwhile, the chamber president told this newspaper, “We need more security on the ferry because vehicles are broken into and people are being robbed.”
Another reason for the decline in the economy, Singh said, is the fact that “rice farmers are not being paid promptly so money cannot be plugged back in the economy.”
He also blamed the poor price for paddy but nevertheless asked, “Whatever is paid, it must be paid early.”