The government has commenced construction of a Vessel Inspection Dock (Slipway) in Kayts, as part of a programme to develop sea transportation between the islets in the Northern Province.
The move to construct the inspection dock comes after complaints from residents of poor sea transportation facilities, owing to bad maintenance and lack of proper- regulating mechanisms.
The seas off the Jaffna peninsula dotted by islets have their own unique identities and provide a great support to sustain Jaffna’s splendor.
Unfortunately, the transportation to these islets is a big issue as the people are compelled to depend on the limited boat or ferry services.
Apart from the fact that it is the only available mode of transportation, residents of these islets faced problems and were inconvenienced due to the limited number of boats available and very bad maintenance. Most of these boats are said to be very old and in bad condition.
A resident of Karainagar, K. Nagarajah, who is a few months away from his 60th birthday, told Nation that every time they take the boats they were risking their lives. “There are many who travel daily in boats. Most travel once or twice a week. Many were promised a safe transport service but so far it is a nightmare,” he lamented.
Jaffna peninsula is surrounded by several islets such as Delft (Nedunthivu), Nagadeepa (Nainathivu), Analathivu, Eluvathivu, Kayts and Karaithivu.
The entire population of the islets depend on boat services which are handled by private owners.
Residents complained that there was no mechanism in place to supervise and regulate the transportation services. Accordingly, the boat owners have the liberty to conduct the service according to their own free will and residents feel that issues such as safety have been compromised.
R. Jeganthan who uses the boat service daily to reach Jaffna Town from Karainagar said that the boats which are being used for transportation are not in good condition. “Not only are they old, they are badly maintained as well. We are compelled to travel in them regardless of the condition of the boat.
“We do not have a voice to complain as they don’t charge much. There was a small ferry here and it has been removed due to its wrecked and dilapidated condition,” he added.
Meanwhile, Minister of Ports and Shipping, Arjuna Ranatunga visited the peninsula in January and met with politicians and the Government Agents who had briefed him on the issues faced by the people of the islets.
Ranatunga said that the officials facilitated him to witness the difficulties faced by these people without having a proper transportation system.
The Minister had later taken steps to ensure that the transportation system was regulated. Accordingly, the Cabinet had approved to allocate Rs. 50 million to upgrade and regulate the transportation service to five islets.
“We commenced the Coastal Passenger Transport Service, opening a Merchant Shipping sub secretariat office under the Ministry of Ports and Shipping. At present, we are functioning from the Kayts Government Agent’s office and we will be setting up our permanent office there on the 50 perches land which we have already identified,” Ranatunga said.
He also said that he had found that the boats and ferries which were being used for passenger transportation are not in good condition for the purpose. “There are over 80 such boats and all those have to be registered at the Merchant Shipping’s sub secretariat office at Kayts to make easy the regulation works. We met all the boat owners and they are supporting the move. More than that, we will also build a Slipway (A Vessel Inspection Dock) at Suruvil, Kayts and that is a long-felt need by the boat owners to get their vessels repaired and launched. The construction of the Vessel Inspection dock has already begun as the necessary funds have been passed onto the Government Agent N.Vethanayagham,” he added.
Ranatunga further said that Slipway can be used for repairing and launching new boats. “They have no such technology or expertise, though they engage in the business. When I promised them a Slipway to repair or refurbish their boats, the owners were so happy,” the Minister Ranatunga said.
Meanwhile, a resident bhikkhu of the famous Nagadeepa Temple Ven. Diyamailagaswewa Ariyakiththi Thera said proper coordination between the Central Government and the regional politicians was a must when implementing development initiatives.
“I do not see any difference in allocating funds or development measures. Developing the transportation system to and from the islets is a good move. But, I always feel that the Central Government should be very mindful when dealing with the local politicians here,” Ven. Ariyakiththi Thera said.
Director General of the Merchant Shipping Secretariat Ajith Seneviratne told Nation that once the Kayts sub-office is set up they will introduce a proper time table for all boats and an insurance scheme for the passengers. He further said that the construction work of the secretariat is planned to complete within a period of two years.
The event at the Kayts Government Agent’s office was attended by State Minister Vijayakala Maheshwaran, TNA Jaffna district MP Mavai Senathirajah, Ports and Shipping Ministry Secretary LP Jayampathy, Merchant Shipping Secretariat Director General Ajith Seneviratne, Ports Authority Chairman Dhammika Ranatunga and Shipping Corporation Chairman Shashi Dhanatunga.
Minister Ranatunga told residents in Kayts who gathered at the Government Agent’s office that the burden on debts is felt by all with no diversions like ethnicity, the language spoken or the area that people live in. “The government has realised the fact that development in the island is for all,” he added.
Senathirajah addressing the gathering noted that the most important part is winning the confidence of the people while the development and infrastructure facilities are provided.