Jun 29, 2011 News
By Leon Suseran
Commuters, including workers and students who daily travel between Rosignol and New Amsterdam, yesterday morning gathered at Rosignol in large numbers and protested replacement of the M.V.Sandaka pontoon with a speedboat to ply the route.
The pontoon was put out of service from Friday afternoon, to be replaced by the 26-seater speedboat, which regular travelers and parents of children who have to cross the river to attend school said is not only unsafe, but also too expensive for low-income families.
Kaieteur News was informed that the pontoon has for a long time been badly in need of repairs, but the Transport and Harbours Department reportedly turned down many requests for money needed to keep the vessel in working order, and major engine troubles caused it to be moored Friday.
Officials have not said when this vessel will be brought back into service, and commuters fear that the severity of repairs required may see it being down indefinitely.
Chanting, placard-bearing protestors, backed by Alliance For Change (AFC) representatives, gathered just after 06:00hrs at the Rosignol Ferry Stelling. Some displayed placards reading ‘We want Torani! [in reference to a ferry once used on that river crossing]’; ‘It very hard!’; ‘Pontoon safe; speedboat dangerous’; ‘Accident waiting to happen’; and ‘Minister Priya, is this how you care for our children’s safety?”.
AFC Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan, who led the protest, said that the situation has created a “tremendous strain financially for parents in the area with them having to send their kids to school using the speedboat”.
Noting that having to travel by the rough speedboat while paying increased fares is affecting students who are writing their end-of-term examination, Mr Ramjattan told the media that government should quickly intervene to end the situation.
“That is a dangerous thing, very dangerous for kids especially, and with all the fishing traps or whatever they have for fishing there, we don’t know what can happen, and some of them [children] are very scared about that,” he said. He urged the government to provide big buses until the pontoon is repaired and put back in service.
Being dissatisfied with and scared of the speedboat service, many students and other commuters are now forced to pay $400 return fare to use the Berbice River Bridge by minibus.
“Very many of the parents can’t afford that because they have a couple of kids who have to travel daily”, Ramjattan said. “These are all poor people. They earn $12,000 a week and now they will have to spend $6,000, $7,000 a week,” he explained.
There are about 300 schoolchildren who depend on the trip across the river to get to their respective schools and the speedboat, unlike the pontoon, cannot shuttle all of them to New Amsterdam in one trip, causing some to be late for classes.
At the protest, one parent said, “We need some buses to cross the children, or a better boat. My two girls crying when they cross with the speedboat.”
Another angry protester said the speedboat is “very dangerous and we need the pontoon for the children to go over [the river]. People cannot afford the [Berbice River] bridge, so we need the pontoon”.
A parent said that many children vomit when crossing the river by speedboat in rough waters. “When they go home, they can’t study. This speedboat very bad for these children. Why the government can’t bring back the pontoon or a ferry for them?”
Another expressed a fear of children losing their balance and sliding to unknown consequences, including possible drowning. “It very, very bad”.
“I cannot afford the bridge and I would like a safer vessel to cross the river,” said yet another parent.
Ramjattan told Kaieteur News that he attempted to contact T&HD and Ministry of Public Works officials to shed some light on the situation, but “not a single piece of information has come from them as to whether the boat is going to be repaired on time or if they are going to provide a proper substitute boat”.
He said, “this is where the information is not forthcoming from a government that is supposed to notify and inform the people. He added, the “information must flow as to why this happened. How long are people going to suffer without the Sandaka and when can they expect better things?”
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