IT IS A MARK of how fraught the issue of inter-island transport has been in recent times that a single successful sailing of the TT Spirit is regarded as a notable event.
And notable it was, since the previous date for the Spirit’s return to the route was not kept.
The vessel had been expected to return to service on March 23, but repairs to coolers as well as issues that arose out of sea trials pushed back that date. Passengers with confirmed tickets for the ferry from between March 23 and March 25 had to be accommodated on Caribbean Airlines Ltd flights.
The relief that greeted Monday’s smooth sailing was only a natural result of all that has transpired thus far. But a single sailing is not the end of the matter.
Now comes the real test. While the Australian-built vessel was originally for military use (it was converted for civilian use in 2006), as time goes by, daily sailings will undoubtedly begin to take a toll. As such, we concur with those, such as chairman of the Tobago Division of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, who have called for a maintenance schedule to be strictly adhered to.
The return of this boat comes after what can only be described as a year of hell for Tobagonians and those who travel between the islands. We hope the return of this vessel, as well as the soon-to-arrive Galleon’s Passage, will return the inter-island transport system to some semblance of normalcy.
If efforts can be made to conduct regular maintenance of those vessels that serve the route, then it is possible we might have entered a new era of reliable transport.
This is vital because the economy of both Trinidad and Tobago have been badly affected, not only in terms of tourist arrivals but also the inter-island trade in goods and services.
Without a reliable service, businesses have been unable to properly cater to demand, and investor confidence has sunk to an all-time low since such an uncertain environment is hardly conducive to commerce.
The Chamber’s gratuitous and destructive threat of an island-wide shutdown was also a part of this.
Therefore, if the inter-island bridge finally gets back on its feet that cannot be the end of the story. Not only will efforts have to be made to maintain the service, but efforts will also have to be made to heal the Tobago economy that depends on it. This will mean making a special effort to lure visitors back.
It also requires more long-term planning in terms of the possibility of fresh infrastructure linking the islands. Included in this must be a plan to deliver on a proposal to develop the Toco port which could, in the long run, reduce the pressures on the current route.