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After deadly accidents, Rakhine State gets tough on boat licensing

A boat in Sittwe is inspected and the owner informed of registration procedures. Photo: Yi Ywal Myint / The Myanmar Times

By Yi Ywal Myint
September 20, 2016
After a series of deadly sinkings involving unlicenced vessels, authorities in Rakhine State are cracking down, informing helmsmen they must register or face hefty fines.

Since the beginning of August, joint teams representing the Water Transport Department, township administration offices, the Myanmar Police Force, the Immigration and National Registration Department, Myanma Insurance and the Department of Fisheries have been conducting an education and awareness campaign. Boat owners have been instructed on registration paperwork, and have been warned that disciplinary action will now be enforced on the local waterways.

“Vessel owners in townships where we conduct education campaigns have to register within 10 days of our discussions,” said U Htin Kyaw, head of the Inland Water Transport Department for Rakhine State.

“They will face fines if they do not comply within the required period. Under the Vessels Law, fines for unregistered vessels range from K500,000 to K2.5 million, and fines for vessels with no business licence are K300,000 to K500,000,” he said.

All fishing boats and all ferries carrying either cargo or passengers must register.

The joint team is registering boats and issuing business licences after conducting inspections. For vessels with engines below 20 horsepower, the township administration offices are responsible for the registration. For vessels above 20 horsepower, the Inland Water Transport Department will issue business licences.

“So far, across the state we have licensed more than 3000 vessels with engines below 20 horsepower, and more than 800 vessels with engines above 20 horsepower. The process – including collecting data, issuing licences and conducting inspections – is continuing,” said U Htin Kyaw.

Boat owners admitted to letting their licences lapse when enforcement was lax.

“I registered when I started my business ferrying cargo. But as no inspections were conducted, the other vessel owners and I stopped bothering to update our licences,” said an owner of a ferry in That Kay Pyin village who asked not to be named. “The port officials and I conducted business through a mutual understanding. I didn’t know there were heavy fines for not registering.”

U Htin Kyaw said that the water transport authorities were trying to be reasonable about notifying boat owners before starting to impose fines.

“If we took action at once without educating them, the vessel owners may face financial losses. That’s why we are conducting education as a first priority,” he said.

On September 7, three women drowned and another three went missing and were believed to have drowned after a private motorboat ferrying them between townships in southern Rakhine State sank in turbulent conditions. The accident was at least the fourth of its kind this year alone. Two boats carrying schoolchildren sank in June and August, claiming a total of 11 young victims.

MPs blamed the state government for not properly enforcing safety standards. In response, state authorities announced in August that boat owners must keep lifejackets onboard all vessels, and will have their licences revoked if they fail to abide by the new regulation.

Translation by Zar Zar Soe

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