Malta ferry gets nod for seabridge

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.

Seabridge woes

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