The proposal for the lease of the Jean De La Valette (JDLV) as a temporary inter-island ferry to ease up the seabridge woes is already before Cabinet.
During an interview with Guardian Media last Friday, Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said the new vessel, currently scheduled to arrive by the end of May, will replace the limping T&T Express, which Government plans to sell, until two new ferries arrive in T&T next year. However, he dismissed suggestions this news was new, adding he had raised it in Parliament ‘about a month ago’.
Yesterday, National Infrastructure Development Company of T&T (Nidco) chairman Herbert George confirmed that Nidco had recommended the temporary lease of the ten-year-old Jean De La Valette, sourced from Malta, to service the seabridge between Trinidad and Tobago and the issue was still before Cabinet.
Guardian Media received two documents yesterday, including the ten-page recommendation made by Nidco to lease the vessel and a letter from Port Authority chairman Lyle Alexander informing Sinanan that he was accompanying George to Malta to check out the charter-hire vessel.
According to the letter, both George and Alexander were in Malta between February 23 and March 2, 2019, to check out the Jean De La Valette.
According to the Nidco recommendation, it held an “open international tendering” process and received proposals from three companies.
“The submission from Virtu Ferries was adjudged the best in terms of age of vessel, speed and payload RoPax (roll on/roll off passenger) capacity,” Nidco said.
According to the recommendation, the JDLV was dry-docked on March 10 and “this will also facilitate its preparation for delivery to Trinidad for the time charter.”
The ferry, once retained by Nidco, will be maintained and crewed by Malta.
“Virtu Ferries has quoted their daily charter rate in terms of a 12-hour work day, beyond which overtime payments will accrue. We sought clarification on this basis of charging since the present scheduling of the seabridge will result in a longer than 12-hour work day for the crew,” the Nidco letter stated.
“The time charterer will work with Virtu Ferries to honour the 12-hour work day and is assured by Virtu Ferries of its flexibility and cooperation.”
The JDLV has an upper deck that provides general accommodation to 680 of the 800 authorised passenger carrying capacity. The remaining 120 passengers can be accommodated in the upper bridge deck. The ferry will also not use the Trinidad and Tobago flag but will continue to fly the Republic of Malta flag.
According to the document, the ten-year-old vessel will be leased from Virtu Ferries for a period of one year, until the two new vessels from Incat and Austal arrive to permanently service the seabridge in 2020.
Although seabridge woes have not been in the news recently, just one year ago it was a much different story. Last year, inter-island travel was heavily dependent on the airbridge because sea transport was sporadic. At one point last year, the PATT also used the water taxi to help service passengers back and forth from Trinidad and Tobago until that boat shut down in the middle of the islands on March 27, 2018. The arrival of the US$17.4 million Galleons Passage boasted the service and Sinanan said Friday this vessel had been doing its job.
January 25, 2017: Intercontinental Shipping Ltd (ICSL), owners of the Super Fast Galicia, announce plans to withdraw the vessel from service on the seabridge.
April 21, 2017: The Superfast Galicia leaves T&T with no replacement vessel to fill the gap on the seabridge.
June 2017: The T&T Spirit is dry docked leaving the T&T Express as the only passenger ferry on the route
July 1, 2017: The Cabo Star and Ocean Flower II are leased from Bridgemans Service Group of Canada to provide passenger and cargo services on the seabridge
August 9, 2017: Contract with the Ocean Flower TT is cancelled.
January 20, 2018: Finance Minister Colm Imbert announces that Government is taking delivery of the new US$17.4 million catamaran Galleon’s Passage, a vessel is owned by Sea Transport Corporation of Australia and built at the Nansha Shipyard in Guangzhou, China.
February 2018: The T&T Express—the lone fast ferry operating on the sea bridge— is pulled from the route “in the interest of public safety.”
February 27, 2018: Galleons Passage sets sail from Bonny Fair Shipyard in Nansha, China, en route to Hong Kong, then Honolulu, Panama Canal, Santiago de Cuba and Port-of-Spain.
March 13-22, 2018: Port Authority of T&T (PATT) makes arrangements with Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to transport passengers with confirmed ferry tickets between T&T.
April 2018: The T&T Spirit returns to the seabridge.
May 29, 2018: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announces that during his visits to China and Australia he met with Australian companies INCAT and Austal to discuss the possibility of purchasing vessels.
July, 2018: The Galleons Passage arrives in Trinidad but is not put into service as it has to undergo some retrofitting.
October 2018: The Galleons Passage begins operating on the seabridge.
Reporter: Renuka Singh