Friday, September 11, 2009

The only safe ferry service to Komodo National Park stopped

Komodo island in eastern Indonesia has been an important tourist destination as well as a World Heritage Site for Indonesia. It is the unique home of the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis), which lives nowhere else in the world.
As such, Komodo island is the major destination for travelers in eastern Indonesia and the tourism revenue generated is vital for the local economy. Now, the only safe public ferry service operated by the state-owned riverand lake transportation and ferry service company ASDP has been inexplicably stopped for almost a year, and tourism and the local economy is collapsing.
Ferry operator ASDP had operated a ferry service between Sape (Sumbawa) and Labuan Bajo (Flores) via Komodo island since the 1970s. This service provided a vital link not only for the Komodo islanders to bring in essential commodities, but also opened up the National Park to visitors by allowing them to cross the treacherous waters of the Lintah strait in relative safety.
Last year, an inexplicable decision was made by ASDP's local manager, Ibrahim, in Sape harbor, Sumbawa island to cease the service via Komodo -- thus effectively cutting off the island from any recognized form of public transportation.
Tourists, who have made the epic journey as far as Sumbawa or Flores, areforced to risk their lives on the perilous five to 10-hour crossing by local sailing craft, that are chartered by the mafia of Labuan Bajo boat owners.
Remote parts of Indonesia are difficult enough to reach safely at the best of times, and the most basic step in infrastructural development in the country is the provision of safe land and sea communications for its citizens.
The impoverished Komodo islanders have been dependent on the daily ferry service to bring vital vegetables and other foods which they are forbidden from growing in a National Park, and malnutrition and infectious diseases are rife. Skin infections, abscesses and a variety of respiratory diseases are present in the community, which are exacerbated by poor immunity due tomalnutrition. Komodo villagers receive no medical attention worthy of the name unless they travel the perilous and expensive voyage to Flores where facilities are only marginally better but too expensive.