A leased passenger vessel to replace the limping T&T Express is expected to arrive here in May to service the inter-island seabridge.
Confirmation came on Friday from Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan during an interview with Guardian Media at his Port-of-Spain office.
However, chair of the Inter-island Transportation Committee Diane Hadad said this was the first time she was hearing about a passenger vessel arriving next month.
Sinanan made the disclosure while speaking about the proposed Toco port, which, when built, will provide a fast ferry service to Tobago to help ease the lingering seabridge woes between the islands.
“We could have a ferry service running like in all the islands ...all the countries...in Europe...a ferry service running every hour because the cost of operating would be significantly lower than it is now,” Sinanan said.
He said the money collected from passengers utilising the current service was minuscule to the $150,000 the Government actually pays for one sailing.
“People don’t understand that. The boat may break down for one reason and you may have about 25 or 30 people on that boat. It’s $150,000 to run that boat up and down,” Sinanan said.
“You have to have the service. This service could allow you to run smaller vessels too. Use the existing vessels and have them running every hour at a significantly less cost.”
Asked if this would be the cure for the seabridge fiasco, Sinanan said a good ferry service in Toco would bring Tobago closer to Trinidad.
“What you would have is two access points...If you notice, you don’t hear nothing much about the seabridge again because we told the population the vessels were in a bad shape and you can’t just go outside and buy a vessel. There are no vessels available.”
He said the US$17.4 million Galleons Passage purchased last year has been delivering.
“Very soon we have another vessel coming in by the end of May,” Sinanan said.
“So we would have three vessels operating. One will then come out and go into dry dock. Cabinet has already approved that. We are expecting that that will happen very soon.”
Asked by Guardian Media if the vessel was leased and for how long, Sinanan said he made this announcement at a post-Cabinet media briefing “a month ago. That is old news now.”
He refused to give more information on the new vessel and instead focused on the fact that the seabridge was no longer facing challenges.
“When last you heard them complaining about the seabridge? There is no bacchanal and problem.”
Next year, he said two new vessels which were purchased from Australian shipbuilders Incat and Austal will arrive in T&T to ramp up the inter-island route.
Yesterday, acting Inter-Island Transportation CEO Vilma Lewis-Cockburn expressed delight at receiving another boat to service passengers. She described the additional vessel as a “replacement” for the 22-year-old T&T Express, which was put up for sale last July after it was fraught with problems. The new leased vessel, Lewis-Cockburn said, will hold on until “the two new vessels come in.”
“Anything that offers more seats we are happy with,” she said.
She said the boat will be able to accommodate “a lot of passengers, much more than what we have on the Express and the Spirit. I think the public will be very happy with this new vessel.”
The T&T Spirit sails six times a week while the Galleons Passage make four trips. On weekends, 700-plus passengers are transported to Tobago, while 2,000 passengers utilise the service on weekdays.
The Galleons Passage and 17-year-old T&T Spirit are the only two passenger vessels now operating the inter-island route. The Cabo Star has been transporting vehicles and cargo to the sister isle.
Lewis-Cockburn said the boat will be handled solely by the National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd and not the Port Authority of T&T.
On possible interest in the T&T Express, which was purchased for US$20 million in 2006, Lewis-Cockburn said, “Right now we have some tenders (for the Express) that we are reviewing.”
Asked if she was aware of a vessel arriving in May, Hadad answered in the negative.
“We have no communication from the minister or ministry with regards to such. We have no such information about any boat. We are not aware of anything. The relationship has been awful, not, non-existence.”
However, Hadad said it would be interesting to find out who leased the boat, at what price and for how long. She said the Government has been dangling a carrot in front of everyone, telling them “we going to get a boat, we going to get a plane and we going to get a superhero. The last three and a half years have passed and Tobago has gone straight down. Nothing would surprise me anymore.”
Insisting she no longer had faith and confidence in the current administration, Hadad said the collapsed seabridge had caused businesses in Tobago to crash.
“There is nothing to have a problem with the seabridge anymore. People have given up on sailing across there. The people who use the Galleons Passage are those who are desperate and they tell you that.”
Several calls to NIDCO’s chairman Herbert George’s cellphone went unanswered yesterday.