The motion was brought by Leader of the Opposition David Granger and was passed unopposed by the government.
“We in A Partnership for National Unity feel that a Commission of Inquiry is necessary to determine precisely how many deaths have occurred and in order to make recommendations to prevent further deaths from occurring,” he said.
Granger said the information from Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn indicated that more than nine people die on average every year in river accidents. The minister has said that 42 persons were killed in river accidents in the last 18 months with 25 last year and 17 in 2013.
“This Assembly is not satisfied that the Ministry of Public Works has the capability to prevent further unnecessary loss of life. This House is not satisfied with the certification and education and the regulation of some boat officers. My information is some of the operators can’t even spell boat much less qualify to be certified to operate those boats,” Granger said
He added that they were dissatisfied with the infrastructure in place to prevent accidents and save lives and believed that the ministry was currently incapable of investigating accidents and bringing offenders to the court.
According to Granger, it was this incapacity and the repetitive nature of fatal accidents that warranted an inquiry. He said the legislation in place may be adequate to promote safe use of the rivers but would only do so if enforced.
Benn in his contribution said the ministry was facing tremendous challenges given the growth in riverine traffic as a result of increased commercialisation as Granger had acknowledged. But he rejected the position that they were not enforcing the regulations and that his ministry lacked the capacity to respond.
The minister pointed to the Maritime Administration’s (MARAD) re-design of boats working as water taxis, top covers and the inclusion of floatation devices in every vessel as initiatives adopted to ensure riverine safety.
“There are persons at the stellings to count and record the passengers on each and every boat; never in the history of the country that you have manifests and the operators in the associations have a safety representative who record this type of information,” Benn said.
He added that they have been holding seminars with the operators, distributing educational material and making weekly patrols and visits to the stellings to improve safety.
“Visits have been made in particular riverain areas where there’s movement of schoolchildren on the rivers and also farmers and others going to market to raise the level of safety consciousness and to improve the environment under which they operate,” Benn said.
He added that they were currently distributing some 1,000 life jackets to school children in those areas which was to be completed before the September school term. Training is also underway for pilots, maritime inspectors and officers with more than 20 persons in the programme Benn noted.
“We’ve made contributions with respect to giving assistance where there has been a tragedy … and are working at putting in place a benevolent fund to continue to make this type of contribution,” the Works Minister said.
He pointed out that there was also a maritime rescue and recovery coordination centre in place with the requisite resources to respond to maritime accidents. In wrapping up his contribution Benn said he believed that a Commission of Inquiry, well intentioned as it was, was unnecessary since the authorities were acting on the issues raised.