Vendors at the Scarborough Market are calling for compensation from Government, claiming they are suffering thousands of dollars in losses with the removal of the T&T Express passenger ferry from the sea bridge on March 13.
Interviewed on Wednesday, the vendors said they depend on the fast ferry to transport vegetables daily, and since they began using the Cabo Star for the past two weeks, most of their goods were arriving in poor condition due to the nine-hour sailing time and high temperatures inside the parking area of the Cabo Star.
“When those vegetables take all that heat, the steam spoil our cabbage. Okroes, patchoi, dasheen bush, potatoes, pumpkin and celery come steamed, while the hot peppers, pimentos and chadon beni would be cooked. Many times, when we order green plantains, when they arrive on the boat in Tobago, they are yellow,” vendor Eglah Roach-Adams told Newsday Tobago.
She said there were Tobago farmers who do supply vegetables but in small quantities. They said they have depended on Trinidad farmers to cater to Tobago for over 20 years now.
“Now this issue with the boat, they (authorities) would not even make sending vegetables, which are perishable goods, a priority. They would put private cars first and leave the trucks with our vegetables back. Sometimes that truck in stuck on the port in Trinidad for days in the sun before those vegetables can make it on the nine-hour, steaming hot slow boat. They are so inconsiderate,” said Roach-Adams.
She said she lost up to $9,000 worth of vegetables in December 2017 and fears her losses would be higher now.
“We still have to pay the supplier because we ordered them, so if they arrive spoilt, burnt, cooked, steamed, we have to pay the full price for all the good even if we can’t sell most of them. We need to get our goods over here in good order just as the popular fast food outlets. Even though the tourists can’t come here, we still need to feed the people of Tobago,” she said.
Another vendor, Kevon Polson, called Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles to advocate more forcefully for Tobagonians.
“If this Cabo Star can’t work, what will happen? Tobago dead and the Chief Secretary acting like everything is okay. Yes, we are waiting on a solution, but we might not be able to catch ourselves by the time the new boat is here, and can’t say Tobago has an agriculture sector again, only programmes.”
Vendor Anderson Duncan described the inter-island crisis as an “intentional plot to hurt Tobagonians,” as he recalled an instance when he remained stranded in Trinidad for two days on the Port-of-Spain port with bags of vegetables.
Duncan also noted that the vendors are forced to wait in the Scarborough market to collect the goods since the Cabo Star leaves Trinidad at 2pm and arrives in Tobago at 11 pm.
“Sometimes we only get three hours to sleep over the weekend because the vessel would come in at 11:30 pm, then take another hour to disembark before we can get the goods. When we get the goods we now have to spend the next hour separating the good from the spoilt. We usually finish around 2am, and then have to get up at 5 am to return to the market,” he said.