By Ousman A. Marong
Some commuters plying the Banjul/Barra crossing by the wooden boats have accused some officers of the Gambia Navy as well as some members of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Services (GFRS) operating at the crossing points of extorting money from boat owners.
Speaking to Mamos Media on Thursday, a passenger on one of the boats; Mustapha Sanyang, a native of Gunjur in Kombo South accused both the Naval officers and members of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Services of demanding bribes from boat operators plying the route.
“The naval officers and members of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Service stationed along the two river crossing points are doing nothing to ensure the safety of passengers crossing with the boats. All they do is to collect bribes from the boat owners by allowing them to overload. Imagine a boat that should load 75-100 people being allowed to load up to 300 people just because the boat owners had given these officers a bribe of up to D400 to buy green tea (ataya). They (the officers) care less about the safety of the passengers when their primary objective should have been to protect lives and properties,” he said.
He opined that the Gambia Navy should provide naval officers who should always accompany the boats to ensure that the passengers are properly catered for and their safety guaranteed.
“There should be navy officers on board the boats. This this is to ensure that the boats are operating in accordance with the laid down safety rules in order to prevent accidents between Barra and Banjul. Most boat operators from Barra are usually small boys below 17-years of age who are hardly mature enough to know how to handle the boats. At times they would allow the boats to stray away from the usual route, often claiming that they have run out of fuel, usually causing panic among the passengers. They do this mostly for fun. Also, the live jackets that they normally issue to the passengers are usually not up to standard and may not be of much use to the passengers in the event of an accident. Most of the jackets are old and some of them are torn and always dirty too,” he asserted.
On her part, Haddy Joof, a regular user of the boats puts the blame on the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) for the dangerous situation that passengers encounter on the route.
“This is all GPA’s fault. They could have worked on the ferries at the time that they were not in active service while they (GPA) were working on the landers. Why did they not repair the ferries during that period?” she quizzed.
She said the GPA has a lot to do in order to protect the safety of the passengers using the route instead of thinking of increasing the tariff when they have nothing to offer to their clients.
Commenting on the matter, the Army PRO Major Lamin K. Sanyany, when contacted to shed light on the allegations said he does not think any member of the armed forces would be involved in such a practice of extorting money from anybody. He called on people to report anyone seen being involved in such an act. He said the Gambia Armed Forces are zero tolerant to bribery and corruption. “We do not sent them there to extort money from anybody,” he concluded.