THE woes of the TT inter-island seabridge continued yesterday when, about an hour after its departure from Scarborough, the water taxi Trini Flash caught fire off the North Coast of Trinidad, en route to Port of Spain. The boat left Tobago at 4 pm and it was reported that smoke was seen emanating from the vessel.
It stalled, stranding over 60 passengers on the high seas five miles north of Maracas. That location is near the Bocas, an infamous rough patch of water where the Caribbean Sea meets the Gulf of Paria. Reports are that an announcement was made confirming “mechanical problems” and all passengers were asked to remain seated. After 30 minutes, no help arrived and panicked passengers used cellphones to call loved ones and the authorities. Acting Works and Transport Minister Kazim Hosein said that he had been told that one of the engines caught on fire.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined but Lyle Alexander, chairman of the Port Authority (PATT) confirmed to Newsday last night that the fire was put out and the seabridge’s cargo vessel the Cabo Star was rerouted to help passengers. He said there were no reports of injuries. Lt Sherron Manswell, public affairs officer for the TT Coast Guard, said the unit received a report around 6 pm that the Trini Flash was taking on water. A vessel was sent out to assist and, up to late yesterday, M answell said it was en route and would arrive shortly. He could not give a status on the condition of the sea, but noted the area is known to be rough. The Paria Bullet, another water taxi, was also sent to assist. Passengers were to be transferred from the Trini Flash to the Paria Bullet and the Cabo Star.
The water taxis was used yesterday to supplement the transfer of passengers between Trinidad and Tobago in the absence of the TT Express, which has been drydocked for maintenance, and the TT Spirit which is still undergoing sea trials after being drydocked since last year. The vessel was expected to return to service on Friday last.
The seabridge has been under strain for months now, most notably over the Carnival period, and Caribbean Airlines Ltd had to be commissioned to transfer passengers. Just last week, CAL announced a US$560,000 wet lease arrangement with LIAT to enhance the airbridge capacity. The virtual shutdown of passenger travel via the seabridge has all but crippled the Tobago economy with businessmen reporting stagnating sales, subdued occupancy rates for hotels and guest houses and difficulty with supplies, including fresh produce.
This is not the first time the Trini Flash has panicked passengers though. Last June, on a routine evening trip from Port of Spain to San Fernando, the boat stalled in the middle of the Gulf of Paria. Passengers then had reported the smell of something burning, and criticised the crew for not being more helpful with communicating the extent of the problem.
A few months earlier, in February, the boat had been removed from service by the National Infrastructural Development Company (NIDCO), because of prolonged sailing times. Nidco did not respond to Newsday’s calls for comment last night. The ageing infrastructure of these vessels is not lost on the government. Earlier this month, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan acknowledged a need for a better maintenance and replacement schedule for the vessels on the inter-island route, as well as the water taxis. As these vessels age, he said, maintenance and parts replacement become harder to source. A tender has gone out, he said, for a new maintenance and management company to handle these vessels, because “it is clear to me that we (at the ministry) do not have the capabilities to do it. No one can tell me (otherwise).” The Galleons Passage, the new US$17 million vessel sourced by the Government to service the seabridge is on its way to TT from China. That boat is currently in the Pacific, en route to Honolulu, Hawaii, and is expected to dock here at the end of April.
The inter-island sea bridge woes continue, as a Water Taxi, despatched to transport passengers between Trinidad and Tobago caught on fire off the North Coast, en route to Port of Spain. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined but Lyle Alexander, chairman of the Port Authority (PATT) confirmed to Newsday this evening that the fire was put out and the dedicated cargo vessel, the Cabo Star, had to be rerouted to assist passengers. The Cabo Star is on scene, he said, as are the Coast Guard. Alexander said there an estimated 60 passengers on board and there were no reports of injuries.
This story is developing.