By John Isaac
THE new Sibu-Kapit Road has dealt a major blow to the express boat industry, already hard hit by the implementation of the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March this year, said Sarawak Third, Sixth and Seventh Divisions Express Boat Association chairman Lau Hieng Choon.
He said since the road was opened to the public, the frequency of express boat operations here had fallen by more than 80 per cent, adding that the express boat industry might gradually disappear.
“The opening of the Sibu-Kapit Road has aggravated the situation.
“In the last two or three months, the number of passengers has gradually reduced and express boats have also been decreasing.
“It (new road) is a big blow for all of us in the industry,” he said when contacted by Borneo Post.
The association, at present, has 100 members.
Meanwhile, an express boat operator who spoke to The Borneo Post on condition of anonymity, said there had been a sharp decline in the number of passengers travelling to and from Kapit since the road’s opening.
He said he was suffering heavy losses as the cost of diesel for a Sibu-Kapit return trip was about RM1,800.
“This does not include the wages for the workers, the captain, the ticketing officer and other staff. One boat has at least four workers on board,” he said.
He added that an express boat would have to have a passenger load of 50 per cent per trip to break even.
“This is a very difficult time for us and if the situation persists, I foresee many operators stopping their operations in the coming weeks. Even the livelihood of the hundreds of porters who carry the passengers’ luggage is also at risk,” he said.
A check with the Kapit office of Sarawak Rivers Board on Monday showed that the early-morning express boat from Kapit to Sibu had only 12 passengers, while the 10.30am trip had 18 passengers.
Prior to the completion of the 110km Sibu-Kapit Road, Kapit was only accessible via river from other towns in Sarawak.
With the new road, travelling from Sibu to Kapit now takes about one hour and 45 minutes, versus the two-and-a-half to three hours via express boat.