Sharjah Creek: Not a quay to board them
Feb 16, 2013 (Khaleej Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
For decades, the Sharjah Creek skirting the shores as a cove has become the touch-down point for hundreds of huge dhows transporting goods from the Indian subcontinent, Iran and the Gulf.
In the long stretches of sandy beaches, traders crowded the open shores during the more than 60 years of maritime history of Sharjah Creek. Today, a handful of traditional dhows can still be seen anchored amid the big modern cargo ships at the Port Khalid, just across the Sharjah Creek.
The area where the traders used to sell their wares in the past is now the waiting point for hundreds of expatriates for wooden abras. Abras, traditional UAE wooden boats that have survived the decades, have become the cheapest mode of transportation for Sharjah's workers.
Crossing the Sharjah Creek to work on the other side costs them Dh1. Daily, more than 500 expatriates take the abras as early as 3am and return home from 4pm. The abras come near the rugged stony steps on the boarding spots on either disde, which have no bridges or docking platforms. In a hurry to reach their workplaces or home, people hurriedly step on to the boat, which carries up to 10 passengers at a time, and many have fallen into the water.
Bharat, an Indian who keeps a record of the 24-hour operation of the abras, says that the trips have to be recorded to give equal opportunities to the abra operatiors. "The 55 abras cannot all ply the route at any one time. We have divided the operation into two groups of 25 abras, each of which transports a maximum of ten passengers across the Sharjah Creek four to five times daily."
The biggest problem the abra operators face while crossing the creek is the sudden waves created by fishing boats that zip past their slow moving abras. "Most of the time, we have to struggle to keep balance when huge waves las the abras. We have to keep the boats steady and ensure the safety of our passengers. In most cases, the sudden huge waves created by these fishing boats force two to three abras to come closer to each other. If an abras gets too close and hits another, it could break one of them," says Mohammed Asif, an Indian abra operator for almost three years.
To the expatriate workers, the risk involved in crossing the creek on an abra for a few minutes is nothing as it is cheap for them.
An Irani, Yakoubi, who is a crew member of an Irani dhow anchored at Port Khalid for four days, says that he took the abra that day to come to the other side of the Sharjah Corniche where he could buy groceries, nuts and other needs of the crew. "We dock at Port Khalid for four days and go. But, we need to have suffiecient provisions stocked to reach Amirabad Port in Iran within 15 days," he says.
Bangladeshi Sumaldas Boshak, who has been working with Bhatia, a loading and unloading company at Port Khalid, says he takes the abra six times a week at 7.30am and returns at 5pm. "I am glad there are abras to take me to the other side. Otherwise, going to the other side by taxi is very expensive. My only hope is that the Sharjah government will build a docking platform to make it easier for us to board the abras," he says.
Abdul Khadir, a worker at the Khalid Port, is thankful that at least there are stone steps to go down and go up to the abra. "Before, there were none. Of course, it would be helpful if the Sharjah government improves this only gate to take the abra."
Abra operators, who have rented the wooden boats from Emirati owners for Dh700 and Dh800 monthly, get almost nothing on weekends during which expatriates working in government offices and the Port Khalid on the opposite side of the Sharjah Creek are off. "Workers are very few on weekends. So we try to lure tourists passing by to take an abra tour from here to the Radisson Hotel and from there to make a return trip passing by the other side of the Sharjah Creek before bringing them back to this place. A one-hour tour will cost them Dh100 and a half-an-hour trip Dh50," Khadir says.
Hoping to earn Dh700 at the end of the month, these abra operators stand there, in the cold in winter or under the scorching sun in summer, waiting for their turn to take passengers to the other side. For the expatriate workers, who have no other economical alternative but to take the traditional abras to reach their workplaces on time, this transport mode is a boon.--
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