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Ocean Flower not seaworthy

CLINT CHAN TACK Sunday, August 13 2017

Government acquired the Ocean Flower II “cat in bag” for the Tobago seabridge without proper inspection of its seaworthiness.

“This is disgraceful,” Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen, a lawyer, declared on Friday as he disclosed to the media an August 7 letter to the Port Authority board from chief engineer Brendon Powder who pointed out flaws in the vessel, leased from Bridgemans Services Group (BSG) from Vancouver, Canada. The concerns about the vessel’s defects were the real reasons for the cancellation of the lease agreement and not because of delays in its delivery as stated by the board, Ramdeen declared.

At a news conference in his Woodbrook law office, Ramdeen said the disclosures in Powder’s letter to Port Authority general manager Charmaine Lewis was based on an inspection of the vessel conducted by Powder and acting TT Inter-Island Transportation Company Ltd CEO Leon Grant in Panama from July 30 to August 6.

Overall, according to Ramdeen, Powder reported the conditions of the hull, superstructure, jet rooms, engine rooms, vehicle deck, passenger spaces and bridge were satisfactory for a vessel built in 1996. However, several problems emerged with Ocean Flower II when it underwent a sea trial on August 5. They included electrical starting glitches, delay in the start up of one engine, all four engines did not operate during the sea trial, oil leaks around the engines and the vessel rocked severely in choppy waters.

Ramdeen said Powder indicated to Lewis that after the sea trial was completed on August 6, “it was untenable to have the Ocean Flower II sail to Trinidad in that condition.” Powder recommended that the Ocean Flower not be used for the inter-island high speed ferry service between Port of Spain and Scarborough until the issues were addressed and rectified.

Ramdeen echoed the call made earlier in the week from Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for the police to investigate the termination of the Ocean Flower II contract.

Alleging incompetence and corruption, Ramdeen said running the Works and Transport Ministry “is not running a supermarket.” He said the entire affair was “deserving of nothing less of resignations and firing” of the parties involved, reiterating the Opposition’s call for Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and Port Authority chairman Alison Lewis to be fired.

He claimed the termination of the contract was indicative of what happens when the Cabinet is composed of “a pick-up side.” But Sinanan is standing by the board’s procedures for leasing the vessel. “I expect that the board would have taken everything into consideration before making its decision,” Sinanan said when contacted on Friday. The minister said he was satisfied this was done based on Lewis’ response to claims made by Ramdeen and others. Sinanan also said the Ocean Flower II was leased and not purchased. Also, he assured that ending the contract for Ocean Flower II in no way jeopardises the lease arrangement with BSG for the Cabo Star cargo vessel, already in operation, saying Government is satisfied with this contract.

Lewis too assures no wrongdoing in the handling of the Ocean Flower II lease, maintaining the late arrival of the vessel, and not other issues, was the reason for cancelling the contract for BSG. Lewis again cited clauses on the delivery of the vessel which the Port Authority considered in making its decision.

Last week’s statement from the authority said the charter party agreement dated June 16, showed the Works and Transport Ministry agreed to a one year time charter of the Ocean Flower II from BSG to operate on the seabridge. Under the terms, the outside due delivery date was July 15. This is followed by a grace period of seven days before the application of liquidated damages and the provision for one extension period to be granted.

After that period, the charterer may exercise the option to terminate or cancel the contract in accordance with Clauses 1 (d) and 45 (b) of the agreement. The authority said following an application by BSG for an extension of the due delivery date to August 1, “the delivery of the vessel remained uncertain.” Accordingly, legal provisions were reviewed by the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs.

After this review, the Works and Transport Ministry issued a notice of termination/cancellation dated August 8 to BSG. The authority added, “No payments were made to Bridgemans under the agreement for Ocean Flower II.” Lewis rejected calls from Ramdeen for her and the board to resign, saying should they step down for acting responsibly by saving taxpayers’ money. The Port Authority said the seabridge continues to be serviced by the Cabo Star and the passenger ferry, TT Express. The passenger ferry TT Spirit is on drydock for maintenance.



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