Government is aggressively moving to halt the backtrack operators plying the Suriname route. Last year the government acquired a faster vessel that will complement the Canawaima ferry.
The idea, according to Works Minister, Robeson Benn, is to reduce the illegal crossings which take place daily at Number 78 Village and other areas in East Berbice.
The issue would be a contentious one. For years now the backtrack operations have been allowed to continue under the seemingly blind eye of the authorities.
Passengers who prefer the faster speedboats which travel to Nickerie, Suriname’s border area, have said that the Government-owned Canawaima ferry which travels between Moleson Creek, in Guyana, and South Drain Terminal, in Suriname, is too slow.
However, Government has been expressing worry over the illegal crossings. Several deaths have been reported from accidents. Also security issues of drug, guns and contraband crossing the borders have been real. It is not unusal for persons wanted in Guyana for crimes to use the crossings to escape the dragnets of police.
On Friday, during a press conference to highlight his Ministry’s work last year, Benn confirmed that a launch, named “Manatee”, has been acquired. The idea is to reduce the dependency on the illegal crossings. It would also address the concerns of the smuggling and other illegal activities.
Since commencing operations in 1998, the “Canawaima” has been providing a critical link between Guyana and Suriname.
However, business has dropped significantly for the ferry. And the backtrack operation is to be blamed, officials say.
Last year, passenger and vehicle volumes dropped significantly. Just over 132,000 travelled on the ferry as compared to the 144,744 the previous year. However, vehicular crossings managed to see a one percent increase to 13,172 travelling.
It raked in $182M and US$64,000 in income as compared to $153M and US$42,000 in 2013.
Last year, management was able to computerize its ticketing system, reducing processing time for passengers by allowing simultaneous generation of tickets and manifest after passengers’ data would have been entered.
The year would have also seen the highest revenue generation in the operation’s existence. Works were also conducted to complete infrastructural such as extension of the booking area, construction of a screening and isolation facility and an office for the Port Health Officer.
However, the challenges remain. The ferry was forced to conduct multiple sailing outside of traffic demand periods.
According to the Manager, besides peak periods like Easter, July-August, December and ‘extended weekends’, traffic demand is low and multiple trips continue to contribute to increased operational cost.
This year, the ferry will be docked for repairs. Plans are also in the works to start offering tour packages to boost revenues, and to install baggage scanners.
A website is also to be established to provide information regarding the service and facilitate online bookings.
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