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Monday 23 October 2017
Politics

Concerns over ferry contracts

Member of the Joint Select Committee, Minister of Energy Franklin Khan

Members of the Parliament's Land and Physical Infrastructure Joint Select Committee (JSC) expressed concern over the circumstances surrounding cancellation of a US$7 million contract to Canadian company Bay Ferries and the award of a US$347,000 contract to local firm Magellan Maritime Services, for maintenance of the TT Spirit and TT Express fast ferries. The concerns expressed by JSC members came as former Port Authority chairman Christine Sahadeo and members of her former board appeared before the JSC at Tower D of the Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre yesterday.

As he listened to how these developments were connected to the current operational problems on the domestic seabridge, Energy Minister Franklin Khan described it as, "jumping from the frying pan into the fire." Khan was concerned that despite challenges with Bay Ferries, Magellan provided primarily managerial and not maintenance services for the ferries. Opposition Senator Wade Mark questioned Magellan's track record in vessel maintenance, as he noted the ferries experienced "frequent breakdowns" when the local firm took over from Bay Ferries.

Sahadeo told JSC members the Bay Ferries contract was terminated in September 2015 because the company failed to live up to its contractual obligations to ensure a transfer of skills to local personnel to ensure they could proper maintenance of the ferries. In addition, Sahadeo said there were problems with the scheduling of dry docking for the Spirit and the Express, both of which are aged vessels.

She said the cancellation of that contract also resulted in substantial savings in foreign exchange. In response to a question from Opposition Senator Wade Mark about Magellan's competence, Sahadeo said the company has, "100 years of shipping expertise." After Khan said Magellan's function was primarily human resources and not maintenance, Sahadeo said some port employees were hired on contract to do maintenance work on the ferries. She also said some of Bay Ferries former employees came over to assist with those works.

Sahadeo said allegations that the maintenance of the ferries were sabotaged have never been proven. However she said when the former board did heighten security around the Spirit and the Express to deal with such situations. She said one measure involved keeping or registers of all the people who worked on the ferries. Noting Magellan's contract began last April and ended in March, Sahadeo said a longer transition period between the end of Bay Ferries contract and the start of Magellan's would have been preferable.

She told Mark that the cargo vessel Warrior Spirit never ran aground, contrary to certain media reports. Former board member Ferdie Ferreira agreed with Sahadeo on the ineffectiveness of the arrangement with Bay Ferries. "I was the person who single-handedly, carried the fight to Bay Ferries," he declared. Ferreira continued, "I was so annoyed, that I took it to the Honourable Prime Minister, in pursuance of the fight to get rid of Bay Ferries."

He said the port board appointed by the former People's Partnership government appointed a transition team which was paid , "in excess of $1000 per month" for three years. "Absolutely nothing was done," Ferreira said. The JSC hearing continues today at Tower D.

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