Hard times for express boat industry

Express boats berthed at the Sibu Passenger Terminal.

SIBU: The completion of the Sibu-Kapit Road project last year has badly affected the express boat industry in the central region.

This was acknowledged by the chairman of the Express Boat Owners Association of the Third, Sixth and Seventh Divisions of Sarawak Lau Hieng Choon when contacted today (May 29).

“The situation is even worse when the Covid-19 epidemic continues to plague the country with the re-implementation of the movement control order (MCO),” he explained.

“Now not many of our members can survive. Many express boats have either stopped operating or postponed their operations.

“There is no profit if they continue to operate because Kapit and Song already have roads. We have no choice,” he said.

Lau said, so far, only three express boat companies were still operating on a rotating basis.

“Today, one company is operating. Tomorrow, another company operates and so on, taking turns.

“This situation has forced many not to operate anymore or to postpone the operation of their boats,” he explained.

Lau said residents along the riverbank and some timber camps in the Putai area were still dependent on express boats because there were no roads to their areas.

He said since the completion of the Sibu-Kapit Road, the express boat operations had dropped by more than 80 percent.

“In the last two or three months after severe Covid-19 outbreaks, the number of passengers has decreased and the number of express boats operating has also fallen drastically,” Lau said.

Explaining further, he said that he had personally suffered huge losses as the cost of diesel for the Sibu-Kapit shuttle trip was around RM1,800.

“This does not include the salaries of the skippers and assistants and an express boat must have at least four employees,” he said.

Lau explained that an express boat trip from Sibu to Kapit must carry at least 50 percent passengers while the trip from Kapit to Sibu must have at least 50 percent passengers for the operator to make some money.

“However, lately, the number of passengers is around 20 people per trip.

“If there are less than 10 passengers, we have to walk away as well. That’s why many of us choose not to operate.

“Now many of our express boats are idle at the Sibu Passenger Terminal because they are not operating,” said Lau.