KUCHING: Sarawak will soon make it compulsory for passengers in open boats to wear life jackets.
Sarawak Rivers Board controller Safri Zainuddin said the state was drafting the legislation and it is expected to be ready for tabling in the State Assembly later this year.
It is necessary for the proposed ordinance to come into force as there are people who just cant be bothered about safety, he told reporters yesterday.
Safri said the board had been quite exhausted with campaigns to get operators to equip their boats with safety features, and life jackets and ensuring passengers use them.
He said some boat operators' excuse was that they could not afford to buy life jackets because they were expensive.
A life jacket costs between RM20 and RM30.
Thousands of people, including schoolchildren travel in open boats, such as the popular longboats, to go to towns and school daily.
Two weeks ago, a nine-month pregnant woman and her two children drowned after their longboat capsized in Sungei Mukah.
They were not wearing life jackets. Safri said that even some of those involved in the search and rescue operations were not wearing the safety gear.
He said there were 35 gazetted rivers in the state and the board found it difficult to deploy enforcement personnel on all rivers to ensure safety rules were followed.
However, he said, strict enforcement had helped minimise overloading on boats.
He said the board would only issue river transport permits to the operators of passenger boats after the Marine Department had cleared the boats for use, and the operators had taken out passengers insurance policies.
Safri said the board, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and the Sarawak Development Institute would jointly host an international freshwater management conference here on Oct 1-2.
The event is to support the United Nations declaration of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable freshwater use, management and protection.
He said the conference would also provide a forum for experts to discuss issues and problems, and recommend strategies to better manage freshwater resources.
On the newly-completed RM10mil Sibu passenger terminal, he said it would be opened soon.
The board had upgraded several passenger terminals in Song, Kanowit, Sarikei, Kuala Baram and Bintulu.
It would call for tenders this year for two new terminal projects in Sebuyau and Marudi.