Published on: Tuesday, February 02, 2010
BANJARMASIN (South Kalimantan): The distance between Kariangau and Panjan, here, is about the same as Labuan Federal Territory and Menumbok in Sabah.
Nevertheless, the hour's ride on any of the seven roll-on roll-off ferries is both smooth and punctual and has been this way for decades for both people and cargo (mainly vehicles) commuting between both points along this coastal province.
"Water transport is a major means of communication for the people here.
The Government sees the ferry service as a bridge for the nation and you will find this stressed also on the sides of this ferry. We have to ensure there are no major breakdowns," said the Nakhoda (Captain), Buce Ahmad, 38.
Buce and the three fellow officers manning it - Chief Engineer Zainal, Suwanbee (Officer) and Ipung (Quartermaster) - had difficulty containing their laughter when told that a monopoly ferry service of similar size traversing between Labuan Federal Territory and Menumbok, in Sabah, has been plagued with recurring problems, including depending on a smaller boat to pull it because a propellor had gone unrepaired for months.
"That (kind of service) won't be tolerated by the Indonesian people.
It will become a big issue. In fact, the three private ones servicing this route are equally efficient.
"We also have a special team on standby in case of a major breakdown although this hardly happened the past 20 years," said Buce.
"I don't know where your Malaysian ferry was manufactured but ours are also 100pc Indonesian-made. This one you are travelling on was built in 1992 using Indonesian technology and resources.
"There have been minor problems which are to be anticipated but never where the ferry got stuck at sea or having to be towed by another vessel as you say happens in Sabah."
Asked how such efficiency was achieved, he said the vessels which are 48m long and 12m wide, are subjected to yearly maintenance.
They can accommodate up to 400 passengers and 22 vehicles per trip.
What is also remarkable is that this near zero-breakdown is achieved despite the ferries operating 24-hours, stopping only half hour for disembarkation.
"We have to operate whether the ferry is full or not. This means even if there is only one motor-cycle on board. It is during Hari Raya that we are busiest," said Ipung.
Asked if the private operators don't feel disadvantaged having to compete with the three government ones and considering that the economy-class fare was just 5,000 rupiah (RM2), he said if that was the case they (private ones) would not have survived. The fare for those bringing along vehicles is 100,000 rupiah (appox RM30).
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