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T&T Express breaks down

Published: 
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Angry passengers in stand-off as
Tobago ferry passengers make their way to the nearby water taxi terminal for alternative transport to the sister isle yesterday. PHOTO: KERWIN PIERRE

A stand-off between passengers and officials of the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) yesterday led to hundreds of people refusing to disembark from the T&T Express, after it returned to the Port of Port-of-Spain after mechanical problems were detected half hour into an already delayed trip.

Angry and upset over the initial seven-hour delay after the 6.30 am sailing was postponed until 2 pm, the passengers, including the elderly, young children and drivers, were allowed to board after they were informed the problems had been rectified.

But half hour into the trip as the vessel reached the First Boca, the passengers and crew were informed the boat was experiencing “mechanical difficulties” and would be returning to Trinidad.

Up to 6.30 pm yesterday, however, it was not known what the problem was as senior PATT officials were said to be investigating.

As the packed vessel docked back in Port-of-Spain it was met by Minority leader in the Tobago House of Assembly Watson Duke, who urged the passengers to “stay strong and not move.”

He said the problems with the ferries were an indication that the Government was failing the people.

“If they can’t solve an issue like this will they be able to solve problems of crime or the economy? You failing in one of the basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, freedom of movement.

“People have purchased their tickets, they are stranded and have been given no rebates or meals. If you can’t solve this we say call the elections now,” he said as a man rang a bell in support.

He added: “They placed everyone as lamb to the slaughter knowing the boat is mechanically unsound. When the boat reached the Bocas the boat shut down. After placing everybody at risk the boat had to be pulled back to Trinidad. Not everybody could swim, if the boat sink is food for the shark and a story for journalists but their families will be in mourning.”

While over 400 passengers heeded the call, a few people came off to purchase ice, food, drinks and snacks to take back on board.

Brandishing their ticket stubs in their hands, some of the frustrated drivers and truckers complained of the uncertainty affecting the inter-island ferry service during the past couple months.

One employee attached to a company in Trinidad but assigned to Tobago, said he had lost a day’s pay due to the interrupted sailing. Asking who was going to accept responsibility, the man, who declined to give his name, said, “I am working hard every day to provide for my family and when I am sent over there to work I have no choice but to go. If I don’t show up for work I don’t get paid, but this is taking away from my family now.”

A Tobagonian father who accompanied his daughter to Trinidad for her recent school graduation complained bitterly about the uncertainty of the sea bridge, as he said his business was suffering.

Another Tobagonian who often came to Trinidad to purchase perishable items to take back for resale, complained about the money she would lose.

“I reach the port early this morning and sit down waiting for the boat, but it was delayed. Now we come back here and not even sure we going Tobago, but I can’t sell what I buy cause it not good any more,” the elderly woman argued.

“I lose thousands but who care,” lamented Gloria from Scarborough.

WATER TAXI CALLED TO SERVICE

Close to two hours after the stand-off, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan intervened and arranged with the PATT to utilise the water taxi, which sails between Port-of-Spain and San Fernando daily, to ferry passengers to Tobago.

Confirming the boat was to depart PoS around 7.30 pm yesterday, Sinanan assured the repairs to the T&T Express would also have been effected. He said it was hoped that all repairs would have concluded around 8 pm, thus enabling that vessel to ferry passengers with vehicles and heavy cargo to Tobago.

Sinanan said an investigation into the problem was also under way.

The Port Authority also said it would be one week before the second vessel - T&T Spirit - returns to service. It said “necessary maintenance works are continuing on the T&T Express and T&T Spirit. These repairs have impacted on the normal sailing schedule, and have resulted in the T&T Spirit being completely withdrawn from service to undertake repairs to its third engine.”

It will however be almost a week before the Spirit returns to service. According to the port, repairs to the T&T Spirit are expected to be completed by May 28 and the vessel will resume operations on May 29 at 6.30 am.

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