Lest We Forget


Compiled by Marilyn B

‘Flying coffins’ sprout wings

M Zukarnea

OCTOBER 20, 2001 – Is safety an issue? Is comfort an issue? Or profit an issue? That’s the questions most ask when they take the commuter boat ride to Temburong. Weaving through the narrow winding river, travelling at speed in between the mangroves can be dangerous, especially when it rains and visibility is poor.

“Each time I get into the commuter speedboat, I pray that nothing happens,” said a daily commuter. Although accidents, casualties and death are rarer than those using cars, accidents which lead to casualties and death seems more horrific on a passenger speedboat, because they carry more people.

The commuter speedboat is popularly known as the flying coffin, because it looks like a coffin, when you’re in it, it’s so cramped, there is no room to move. There are not enough emergency exits, and it’s very uncomfortable.

It flies through blind narrow curves at such speed, each debris, no matter how small, that it hits, makes you feel its scraping the boat’s bottom. The passenger feels each bump and turn the boat takes. It’s one of the most uncomfortable ride imaginable.

However it is the fastest mode of transportation from Temburong to Brunei. Daily commuters bear the uncomfortable and unsafe ride.

ABOVE & BELOW: New and improved boats on Bandar waters; and passengers get onboard. PHOTOS: M ZUKARNEA

Cushioned seats for greater comfort, higher ceiling and emergency exits

This year the inevitable happened when a ‘flying coffin’ capsized, leaving two foreign workers, who wanted to enjoy the beauty of Temburong, dead.

Why has there been no improvement to the boat? The boat operator does not ask its passengers to wear any life jacket. It seems operators don’t bother about the safety of their passengers. Authorities are not concerned about the nature of the boat. If it can move and carry people from A to B, then it’s fine. Since then there was a new and improved commuter speedboat, bigger, better, faster and safer too. The design resembles the old speedboat, the side two doors pop up for its passengers. These resemble wings. The public call these boats the ‘new and improved flying coffins with wings’.

It only comes out during the mornings carrying an abundant number of people. There are two boats, a 16-seater, and a 30-seater. Daily travellers from Bandar Seri Begawan to Temburong still use the old boats.

“It’s smoother, you can hardly feel the bumps,” said a passenger of the new boat. It’s definitely an improvement, more comfortable for one, and spacious. However, the safety features are still limited. At least it is better than the old boats. Passengers have easier access to life jackets, and emergency exits.

The window panels can be kicked through, with enough space that a buffalo could fit through, with the old boats, the window panels are smaller, it’s a bit of a squeeze in an emergency.