PEOPLE tend to take the safety of river transport for granted because of the low accident rate.
Very often, it is only after a tragedy that the authorities concerned start to talk about taking action against the offenders. Calls will also be made for a thorough probe to keep accidents at bay — or at least to a minimum — in future.
New river ordinance will be enacted and implemented, followed perhaps by the emergence newly-designed expressboats.
“But all these will come to naught if people continue to neglect the safety aspects of river transport,” managing director of Express Bahagia (2020) Sdn Bhd Ling Kouk Choung told thesundaypost.
Referring to the Oct 18 expressboat-barge mishap at Sungai Kakus, Ulu Tatau, where 13 passengers perished, he said as it was still too early to determine the exact cause of the tragedy, there should be no finger-pointing.
“Hopefully, the authority concerned will speed up their probe to give the people a better picture of the incident and try to prevent a recurrence.”
The Tatau river tragedy will definitely raise questions over the safety of Sarawak’s river transport, one of most important means for people in the rural areas to move around.
It is also a sad reminder of the last major expressboat tragedy along Rajang River on Jan 8, 1991 at Sungai Pak, Kanowit, about 45 minutes boat ride from Sibu.
That mishap rocked the whole state, prompting the government to come up with stricter regulations for riverine transport.
Then Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Amar Dr Wong Soon Kai called for the drafting of a new State Ordinance to better control marine transportation in Sarawak.
Naval architects came up with new boat blueprints that not only promised more conventional and sleek designs but also incorporated several safety features.
For instance, the double-deck expressboat was designed in such a way that its chances of sinking were reduced even in a heavy collision.
Thus, on May 13, 1993, Ling’s company produced the first double-deck expressboat in the state.
“The new design revolutionised the expressboat industry and since then, there have been fewer incidents,” he noted.
Ling said it was understandable why people tended to take river safety for granted as there was almost a 20-year gap from the last major expressboat tragedy to the one at Sungai Kakus.
“Perhaps, it’s time passengers show more concern for their own safety. On our part, we have always followed Marine Department regulations by sending our boats for mandatory annual survey,” he said.
Ling assured all his boats would undergo this strict checking.
“Our chief concern is making sure all our boats are in tip top condition. We will never compromise on our passengers’ safety,” he said.