Published on: Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Those using it should be happy for the "small amount" charged for crossing the 13km channel between Sabah and Labuan in less than two hours.
Labuan Ferry Corporation (LFC) Sdn Bhd Executive Chairman Peter Kong said this in response to criticisms of the sardine-packed car deck, woefully inferior facilities at the passenger hall and questions over the safety standards of the ferry.
"We have been operating the marine public transportation for the past 15 years and welcome the criticisms whether fair or unfair.
"We want to provide five-star service and facilities and be proud of it but how can we when our charges are perhaps the cheapest in the world against our operations costs.
"The passenger fare is merely RM5 while for a saloon car it is RM40 for one-way," he said.
He said the rates prevailed since 1991 with a minor adjustment in 2011.
Peter explained that when LFC began operations 15 years ago the marine bunker cost only 50 sen per litre but was now RM3.10 per litre.
Then there is the minimum wage of RM800, higher over-time rates and costlier docking, survey and certification charges.
"If the Government allowed us to charge half the airfare rate between Labuan and Kota Kinabalu, we would be in financial position to provide superior travel comfort to all," Kong said.
He lamented that LFC was frequently made the "punching bag" despite not being allowed to raise fares while other transportation companies do so.
He noted that there were plans to dredge the Labuan-Menumbok channels but after studies were made, the project was abandoned due to heavy dredging costs at RM1.5 million.
In addition, the channel is prone to siltation and maintenance fee would cost RM200 million annually.
If the dredging had been implemented, travel time between Labuan and Menumbok would have been reduced due to shorter route and could have resulted in reduced ferry operations cost.
"The extra cash in hand would have helped us to upgrade services and facilities," he said.
There is another proposal by Member of Parliament Datuk Rozman Isli that the RM17.5 million, allocated to subsidise travel and transportation between Labuan and Menumbok did not produce desired results, and should be switched to ferry operators.
"This certainly is good news with such allocation coming to us," Kong said. "We can do wonders to transform our image."
Regarding the ferry carrying more vehicles than the permissible limit on the car deck, he explained that the "Wawasan Perdana" ferry had a capacity to accommodate about 60 vehicles.
The vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, making it difficult to estimate how much space would they occupy on the deck.
"We also need enough load to run a trip, or else an increased fee would be the solution," he said.
He said that although the vehicles on deck were bumper to bumper, the ship crew ensured that the vehicles were neatly parked with a walking path in between.
Moreover, the Labuan-Menumbok journey is a short trip and devoid of powerful waves, unlike the sea conditions in South Korea where a ferry sunk after fighting a losing battle with the waves.
On safety standards, Kong said that the vessel was subjected to stiff inspection by reputed and accredited agencies before being issued with the safety and sea-worthiness certificates.
"It is not that Labuan is without marine rules and regulations," he said.
The Labuan-Menumbok ferry services are operated by LFC and Juta Bonus Sdn Bhd which uses the ship "Kimanis 1".
The crowded images of the car deck which appeared in Daily Express were taken from the latter's vessel.
On the ferry issue, people are also beginning to question why the third company appointed to operate the service had not done so and no action had been taken by the State or Federal ministries.
The approval was given to the company about two years ago.
There is going to be another big exodus of about 4,000 vehicles for the upcoming Harvest Festival and without the third operator in business, it looks like another travel ordeal is awaiting hundreds.