August 22, 2011
Mailboat Captain Sean Munroe has noted steady growth in business recently as Bahamians, though still pinching pennies, make more use of available payment options to transport goods - and themselves - throughout the islands.
It's a pattern the Sherice M. captain particularly noticed in the last several months.
"The economy has turned around tremendously," he told Guardian Business. "We've seen the growth in freight and passengers are still moving. So people are just minding their pennies, but they are still spending, just spending smartly."
And that's where the mailboats come in. The freight boats, which travel inter-island with supplies essential to everyday life on the Family Islands, have seen a boost in its revenue streams due to the hard times.
For Munroe, it's been an increase in passengers opting to forego the pricier air ticket price for the longer - and less comfortable - boat ride. Though it may be more of hassle, for many Bahamians residing on the smaller islands, the long voyage is simply easier on their wallets.
"To send a package on mailboat, it's like $5, some airlines it's $15," he explained. "The mailboat gives consumers an option to save a few more dollars. . . it always has been and always will be the cheapest form of transportation.
"Customers have more flexibility with paying their bills. We take goods in this week and we receive payment the following week to give consumers an opportunity to pay their bills in a timely fashion. Mailboats are very lenient with Out-island customers."
This optimism and uptick in business comes even as hard times strike boaters.
Rising fuel costs, coupled with stagnant and outdated government subsidies and limits on the charges they can levy for their services, were making it unprofitable for most of the operators to continue service.
The situation sparked many of the boaters to stop taking freight in May for a brief period as issues were sorted out over the redress of fuel costs, government subsidies and the levies they could charge.
Many of the workers in the sector argued they could not continue operating in that environment.
Munroe said gas prices are still a major issue for mail boat operators.
"The only problem with the mailboat industry right now is the rising cost in fuel," he explained. "We are formerly owned and operated, so our operating costs are far much cheaper than other companies because we can operate our own vessels at a lower cost.
"But fuel is our biggest competitor right now."
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