By Rehana Ahmad
EVEN as the MV Canawaima remains inoperable, a substitute vessel stands “willing and ready” to recommence the Guyana-Suriname ferry service. This confirmation was given by Senior Public Works Minister Juan Edghill during a media engagement on Wednesday.
“The Canawaima ferry service and the Ministry of Public Works, with the support of the Transport and Harbours Department stands willing and ready at any moment to deploy the MV Sandaka to start to provide service between Guyana and Suriname,” Edghill said.
The minister asserted that even with the MV Canawaima out of order, there are no mechanical issues preventing the long-awaited resumption of the service. As a matter of fact, it is the process of diplomacy [that] has somewhat stalled resumption of the service.
“We had established a date in December that was shifted because of the Cuban caravan that was assembled at the border,” Edghill posited.
The Moleson Creek crossing was slated to be reopened on December 12, 2020, following its closure in March 2020, owing to the emergence of the novel coronavirus that had quickly developed into a pandemic. But even with the reopening of Guyana’s major airports and borders, the resumption of the Guyana -Suriname ferry service was stalled after it was reported that a number of Cuban refugees had been camping out at the Suriname end of the border, waiting to travel to Guyana. It is believed that the Cubans had intended to use Guyana as a trans-shipment point to the United States of America.
Edghill has indicated that Guyana and Suriname are yet to come to an agreement pertaining to the handling of the situation.
Nonetheless, as it relates to the MV Canawaima, Edghill said that the vessel is currently in Paramaribo for dry dock. He noted that Stephan Thomas, Director-General of the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD), along with two of the ministry’s “technical people” are expected to travel to Suriname to carry out a comprehensive inspection of the vessel.
“The only difficulty we’ve been having is because of the COVID-19 restrictions… but they are making preparations; we will be searching both air and water travels to get them there to do the inspection,” Edghill noted.
The Canawaima ferry, which was built by the European Union at a cost of US$20 million, commenced operations in 1998, successfully transporting passengers and cargo between Guyana and Suriname from the Moleson Creek and South Drain points, respectively.
Over the years however, the MV Canawaima has experienced a series of mechanical problems. As a matter of fact, in 2019, the vessel broke down midway as it was transporting passengers and cargo to neighbouring Suriname.
The Guyana/Suriname ferry service served as a critical and legal link between the two countries, mutually improving economic and cultural relations. Without the ferry service scores of persons in Suriname and Guyana usually resort to the alternative “backtrack” routes.