Saturday, May 15

Being wise after the event


Drivers must drop off their passengers before boarding the ferry.

I HAVE been on ferries numerous times, either as a driver of a vehicle or as a passenger in a vehicle. Observing the regulations before using the government-funded ferry was a matter of routine.

Travellers by road to Bau and back had to use the ferry at Batu Kitang near Kuching while the bridge was being built across the Sarawak River. A few years later, a ferry was necessary for crossing the Kayan River at Stunggang Dayak in order to get across to Lundu town and back.

Then travelling eastwards from Kuching, it was by ferry crossing the Samarahan river at Muara Tuang. This ferry service was dependent on the condition of the tide; no service at low tide and at night. But the drivers could choose an alternative route: overland via Meranek to and from Kuching. The road wasn’t too good, but it saved time. The wait at the ferry point could take hours, especially while in a long queue of vehicles during the festive seasons.

People don’t read the rules  

At all the embarking and disembarking points there was always a notice board prominently erected so that the public could read the instructions on how to use the ferry.

Over the years, the writing on the board became blurred. Unless you make an effort to get closer, you would not know what it is all about. It is about the procedure of embarking and disembarking for all vehicles and passengers; these rules must be observed by all the users of the ferry. Although we didn’t use the terminology SOP or even read the notice, yet most drivers used common sense.

It is possible that the driver, on reaching the terminal and while waiting for the arrival of the other ferry still at the other bank of the river, may take a nap and doze off, or, as most likely the case, he may be engrossed on his smartphone.

Duties of driver

It used to be the routine that at the embarkation point, the primary responsibility of a driver of a vehicle carrying passengers was to order them to disembark from his vehicle. It was practical wisdom: in the event of an accident near the water, the passengers would not be in danger of drowning. As for the driver, it would be advisable for him to be extra careful – with windows of vehicle open, himself ever ready to exit fast in the event of an emergency.

At the ferry point there was always a man to regulate traffic. The drivers had to wait for a signal from that man when to start driving down or up the ramp. Only the driver and his vehicle were allowed to proceed on board the ferry.

Passengers, except for the sick and the invalid on the way to the hospital or clinic, had to walk to the ferry, rain or shine.

While on board, no passenger was allowed to get back into the vehicle. And on arrival at the other bank of the river, a man would regulate the traffic. A routine.

After loading up, a chain or wire was stretched across both ends of the ferry. This barrier would be removed after the ferry was ready for disembarkation at the other terminal.

Obviously, I am talking about the past. Those were the routine jobs of the ferry man which I had observed during my days of travelling by ferry. I don’t know what the procedure is now. The old SOP, if followed and enforced, worked very well. Accidents did happen despite all the necessary precautions. I cannot explain that.


I don’t know if any of the 12 ferries in operation in Sarawak are managed by private operators with supervision by the Public Works Department (JKR). If there is any, is it not the responsibility of any contractor to ensure safety of vehicles and passengers on that ferry to remind users about strict observation of the SOP? I don’t know of any addition to the old dos and don’ts of the old SOP; old or new, drivers – especially those new to the area – need to be reminded of the procedure all the time. Humans mudah lupa (forgetful).

The admission (refer to The Borneo Post of Jan 5, 2021), that the SOP had been “loosely imposed” speaks volumes of possible lapses in the observation of the regulations. Do the staff constantly remind the drivers of vehicles of the importance of observing the routine at the embarkation and disembarkation points?

Hopefully, with the reassertion by the authorities of the measures plus the compulsory wearing of the lifejacket and the construction of railings along the ramps (something new), serious accidents would be avoided.

Never mind if you look like an extra-terrestrial from outer space in Covid-19 face mask; safety standards will be observed to the letter and the spirit for the good of the ferry users themselves until such time when we can travel in Sarawak without the service of the ferry.

Meanwhile, needless to say that the ministry responsible for the ferry management in the state will provide wide publicity to educate vehicle drivers of their duty to dislodge their passengers before boarding a ferry.

In this connection, I suggest that a simple written reminder in several local languages be given to all drivers of vehicles including motorcycles at every ferry embarkation point. This is to remind them to read the Dos and Don’ts, the fine print, with a rider that all vehicles and passengers use the ferry at their own risk.

Subject to correction, there is a flat charge of RM1 on each four-wheeled vehicle per ferry trip. Has it occurred to anybody that an accident or damage affecting the vehicle on board through the negligence of the ferry staff would possibly make the owner of the ferry as a common carrier of the vehicle liable for negligence unless there is a disclaimer of liability written on the ticket? To avoid this possibility, why not waive the charge for the vehicle?

All this is being wise after the event.

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