By Sailu Bah
As Muslims around the country were preparing for the celebration of the feast of Eid ul Adha or “Tobaski” over the weekend, the Banjul – Barra crossing witnessed yet another heavy traffic of people and livestock with only one ferry working. People have been complaining about having to wait for hours to cross from one point to the other as there was congestion at both terminals and in the ferry.
This particular religious feast is one in which some people travel either alone or with their nucleus families to their home towns or villages to celebrate it with the extended family. Given the inability of the local market to supply the demand for rams, some people and traders do travel to the neighbouring country of Senegal to buy and bring animals for the feast. Hence the large-scale movement of people to different destinations both in and out of the country brought about the heavy traffic at the ferry crossings.
Visiting the Banjul Ferry terminal on Friday, 3rd October 2014, this reporter observed a large number of people and vehicles waiting to cross on board the ‘Johe’ ferry to Barra. There was a long queue of passengers who wanted to buy tickets. Some of the passengers were sitting down in the waiting area while others were milling around the nearby stalls and shops to look for food or other things to travel with. Other travelers who were anxious to travel and could not wait were seen resorting to the boats so as to cross early.
“I have been here for more than an hour now but can’t get access to buy a ticket and get inside the waiting room, because the place is full with people,” lamented Momodou Lamin Joof, a resident of Nuimi, North Bank Region.
Mr. Joof said he came to Banjul to shop for his family and was returning home with the items he bought for the feast.
He called on the ferry authorities to ensure that at least more than one ferry is placed at the service of travelers during feast occasions to ease such travelling difficulties as having passengers to wait for longer periods and also generate more revenue for the state.
A commercial vehicle driver who was travelling to the provinces also made a similar complaint of having to wait for a long time before entering into the terminal.
When this reporter visited the Banjul terminal on Saturday morning, 4 October, which was Tobaski day in the Greater Banjul Area, he found some passengers waiting to cross the sea on board the ferry which was working. The visit was meant to ascertain the claim that the ferry service was suspended on this day which was unfounded as both the staff and ferry were working.
Commenting on the congestion and delays being complained about by travelers, a staff of the ferry service, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ‘Johe’ is very fast but that what causes the problem is that it is the only ferry plying the route. He further described the old ferries, which include ‘Johe’ as resilient and heavy duty in terms of carrying load and that what is needed is for them to be rehabilitated and installed with new machines. He further added that what was spent on the two new ferries which are yet to be commissioned could have been used to acquire new machines for two of the old ones. “These would have enabled us to have three running and faster ferries to facilitate easy movement, reduce congestion in both the ferry and terminal as well as travel time,” he said.