Belaga boat accident should be regarded as a national disaster

DAP is shocked and outraged at the tragic Belaga boat disaster yesterday morning where an express boat sank in the Rajang River, with 23 passengers still missing when search and rescue (SAR) operations stopped yesterday because of nightfall.

So far, 181 passengers managed to swim to safety after the ill-fated express boat sank at the Jeram Tukok/Jeram Bungan area, about four hours’ journey upriver from Sibu.

Initial investigation indicated that the express boat had exceeded its capacity for 67 seated passengers as it was believed to be overloaded with over 200 passengers returning home for the Gawai Dayak festivities, and had encountered engine failure before crashing into a rock and sank.

The Sarawak Rivers Board (SRB) Chairman Datuk Roland Sagah has announced a full investigation into the tragic accident, warning of appropriate action against the express boat operator for failing to heed the advice not to overload or allow passengers to climb on the roof when the vessel was too full while plying the rivers.

Unfortunately, such investigations are not going to bring back to life those who have perished in the latest boat disaster in Sarawak.

Two years ago, 13 passengers died in a similar express boat tragedy in Tatau district near Bintulu town.

The Belaga boat accident yesterday should be regarded as a national disaster as it is tragic proof of failure of 50 years of development in Sarawak with still no road access to rural districts.

The frustrations of Sarawakians, particularly Dayaks in the interior, were very eloquently expressed in a letter to a web news portal by a Shell Malaysia “senior instrument engineer” as follows:

“The number of passengers taking the express boats from Sibu to Song, Kapit and Belaga increase every year. And it is a not short, safe ride.

“The journey would take hours. The Rajang river is full of debris from logging activities upstream. There are rapids in some parts.

“This is not the first river tragedy. There has been many senseless deaths in the past.

“The distance from Kanowit to Kapit is about 100 KM. Yet, its surprising to think why the construction is not even schedule to be completed in the next 5 years.

“By contrast, the dual carriageway from Cameron Highland to Bentong, was completed in 3 years. Same distance, and topography.

“The BN system is incapable of providing socioeconomic justice, because the economic cake is distributed from the top down according to race and hierarchy in the party.

“This, unfortunately, is the system that the rural populace appear to have voted for.

“The YBs will provide RM300 coffins for the dead, and the relatives would be forever grateful.

“Such is the tragic comic that befall our helpless fellow Malaysians and human beings, while in the clutch of BN.”

This is a powerful indictment not only at the failure of equitable development in Sarawak after 50 years but also on the whole system of rotten political governance in the state and nation.

The Belaga boat tragedy should be the top agenda of two meetings today – firstly, the last day of the Sarawak State Assembly and secondly, the second meeting of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s post-13GE Cabinet in Putrajaya this morning.

Both the Sarawak State Assembly and the Federal Cabinet should come out with an prompt and immediate response for an urgent plan to give top priority to provide road access firstly, Bakun-Belaga-Bintulu and secondly, Kanowit-Song-Kapit.

If not, the Belaga boat disaster and the failure of equitable development in Sarawak in the past 50 years with still no road access to the rural districts in the state should be top topic for MPs whether Sarawak, Sabah or Peninsular Malaysia in the first 16-day meeting of the 13th Parliament beginning on 24th June 2013.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah