27 Buddhist monks demand handover of Sittwe-Buthidaung ships back to government

27 Buddhist monks from downtown Buthidaung in western Burma’s Arakan State have written a letter to a company owner who has taken lease on the public ships that are sailing between their town and the regional capital Sittwe demanding to return them back to government citing public difficulties for travel on the itinerary.

The ferry ship ply in Buthidaung and Sittwe water route ( Photo by Narinjara)

“The poor people are now unable to travel between Sittwe and Buthidaung even for matters of life and death because of the expensive ship fares on the route. That is why we, 27 Buddhist monks from downtown Buthidaung, have written to the owner of the Nagarmin Company, U Kyaw Nyaunt, with our own signatures and demanded him to reduce the ship fare to the former rate, or to hand over the ships sailing on the route back to the government”, said Ven. U Thawma, the head monk of the group.

Sittwe-Buthidaung shipping line is the most public traveling line in the region, and the ship fare on the route has been raised six times the former rate since the line was privatized by the government in 2011.

“The fare was only 500 Kyat when the government was operating the ship line, but it has been increased six times to 3,000 Kyat after the Nagarmin Company took on the line. This hurts the people in our town because most of them are unable to afford Kyat 10,000 or 20,000 to travel from their town to Sittwe. That is the reason why we demand the company reduces the ship fare for our poor people”, said the monk.

There are three ships namely Dynyawady (1), (2) and (3) sailing between the Sittwe and Buthidaung. The government has hired those ships out to the local private company Nagarmin from 12 July 2011. The monks are said to have written their demand to reduce the ship fare while the government and the company are planning to sign the extension of their contract on 26 March.

“We have written to the company before they sign the extension of their contract with the government, but the company owner U Kyaw Nyaunt has not responded to us yet. If they fail to accede to our demands, we will try step by step until the ship fare is reduced to the former government’s rate. It is very difficult for people in our town to earn 1,000 Kyat per day and they have now to face this difficulty with their travel because of the enormous hike in the ship fare”, said Ven. U Thawma.

The Nagarmin Company declined to give any comment on the issue when contacted by the Narinjara as well.

A woman who is living nearby the harbor in Buthidaung also said the peoples in her town and adjacent areas have been badly affected since the government privatized the public ship line between Buthidaung and Sittwe.

“There is no road link between Buthidaung and Sittwe, and the riverine route is the only viable transportation for the people in our town and other adjacent areas to travel to Sittwe. So many people have been suffering great difficulties with their travel as well as their their trading since the private company has taken on the public shipping line from the government and increased the ship fare by six times”, said the woman.

She said that there were many peoples in Rathedaung, Nyaungchaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw who were earning their livelihoods by trading vegetables and farming and other products depending on the cheap public ship line, but most of them have been ruined in their businesses since the ship fare has increased after leasing the ship line to the private company.

U Kyaw Chay, a school teacher from downtown Buthidaung, also said public faith in the successive Burmese regime has been declining in their region due to the regimes’ negligence of the public sector in the region where the people are suffering from stringent poverty.

“We can say the successive Burmese governments have no desire to take on any obligations for the people in our region because they will privatize the public sectors that will not bring any profits to them. Now the sectors of shipping and electricity in the region have already been handed over to private companies without considering the sufferings of the peoples in the region. That is why no people in the region have respect or faith in the government”, said the teacher.

U Thawma said they would try their best with their own strategies without drawing public involvement until the ship line is handed back to the hand of government by the company.