Flashback: The Carnival Runner which began sinking while at berth in San Fernando. (Image: IVAN TOOLSIE)

The National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) has not yet decided on the future of the Carnival Runner, which it stabilised after the vessel began sinking while berthed at King’s Wharf in San Fernando in August. NIDCO chairman Herbert George says it will take some time before the company makes a final decision, as the vessel is very costly to repair.

The Carnival Runner, one of four vessels operated by the Water Taxi Service, was taken out of operation in 2015.

An assessment a few years ago indicated that it would cost a few million dollars to return the vessel to operation. George believes that the cost increased further. Guardian Media understands that repair crews sometimes use the Carnival Runner to source replacement parts for the other vessels.

However, George said this only happened on a few occasions. He said NIDCO prefers to buy new components, as there is no guarantee that used parts would last. The water taxis, purchased in 2010, services commuters travelling between San Fernando and Port-of-Spain via the Gulf of Paria.

George said these vessels could last between 20-25 years with adequate maintenance. However, this was not always the case, and in 2015, NIDCO spent considerable sums to return the vessels to proper functionality.“From 2015, we invested in the health of the vessels. We started to work on vessel after vessel, and we changed out engines. That is going on to the point where we have three vessels functioning quite well. That one vessel, in particular, required more than the other three that we brought back to good shape. In addition to that, the three vessels can function and perform the services required between San Fernando and Port-of-Spain,” George said. He said with the APT James and Buccoo Reef vessels operating between Trinidad and Tobago, NIDCO has an arrangement with the engine manufacturer, MAN Marine Diesel Engines, which installed a cloud-based monitoring feature. He said, “MAN is able to tune into the marine link and get an idea of the performance of all the engines on the vessels. So if, while travelling to Tobago, one engine malfunctions, MAN can tune in and then ask us to check A, B or C. That kind of service comes with a cost. You can start off doing that, and after three years, stop, and things would fall apart. We end up doing breakdown maintenance and troubleshoot. It is not the best way to operate vessels, so we use prescriptive maintenance.” He explained that during a vessel’s lifetime, the maintenance crew sends a sample of engine oil for testing, which would help determine the status of the part. “That costs money and we started the water taxis like that. We had MTU to provide that service. After they left, we were left to our own devices and the maintenance was not as it was meant to be,” he said.

As for the future of the Water Taxi Service, George said NIDCO never stopped considering the expansion of destinations in its services. He said proposals for trips to La Brea and Point Fortin come up ever so often.

In assessing the Point Fortin destination, he said one possible berthing area was Clifton Hill. However, there was a sizeable gas line parallel to the equation. A water taxi would have to straddle the gas line, but this proposal did not sit well with the owner. La Brea is a bit easier to berth and George said using pontoons may address the problems at both locations.“It is still there; we just need the money to advance it,” he said.

“When that happens, you will really get to see the full benefits of the water taxi arrangement. I am not saying it is not beneficial now, but after 9 am, you do not need any vessels going from San Fernando to Port-of-Spain. Then from 3 pm-6 pm is when peak traffic hits. On the other hand, if we are going on longer routes, then during the day, you can have a fair level of service and have a greater volume of passengers from Point A-B.”He said this plan could really make use of having four water taxis.