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Sunday 16 June 2019
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Galleons Passage seaworthy

Propellers damaged in China but evaluator passes vessel

THE Galleons Passage passed international maritime tests as a new ferry for the local sea bridge but with flaws, including questions about the builders’ capabilities in China, raising the issue of whether TT got value for money.

During sea trials in China, its propellers were damaged which caused engine drive shafts to malfunction, as well as the stern tubes (tube which runs through the bottom of the boat from engine to propeller). Currently holed up in Santiago de Cuba, Sunday Newsday was unable to confirm yesterday if all repairs were done as pointed out in Schulte Marine Concept’s (SMC) evaluation report on the Galleons Passage. The report, compiled December 2017 for the TT Government, mentioned some poor shipbuilding practices, but list the Galleons Passage’s construction to be of good quality. And the equipment on board is of a European standard, SMC stated.

The Galleons Passage left China in February.

SMC’s evaluation is one of seven reports tabled by Finance Minister Colm Imbert in Parliament on Friday and Sunday Newsday obtained copies. In its evaluation, SMC found the Galleons Passage had encountered an incident in the sea (before leaving China for TT), where its four propellers were damaged.

“There is evidence the vessel underwent an incident where the four propellers were damaged. The vessel was docked at least once and there were four propellers; three drive shafts and three stern tubes replaced (NB No 2 stern tube and drive shaft not replaced),” the SMC report said. It further noted the Galleons Passage’s main engine reportedly had high running temperatures at sea trials.

SMC operates offices in China and pointed out that the buyer was informed about the “high temperature” issue as well as the fact that each of the stern tubes and drive shafts were not replaced. At the time of SMC’s evaluation, the vessel flew the Venezuelan flag.

In 2016, Gran Cacique shipping company of Venezuela bought the boat. El Impulso.com online newspaper, Venezuela, reported in November 2016, that Gran Cacique vice president Jorge Rassi had announced it had acquired a catamaran-type boat 74 metres long and built in Guangzhou, China, for the Nicholas Muduro-led government. It said the boat was placed in the sea just two weeks before. Having bought the boat, Venezuela gave it the name Dona Mercedes. It was to be used as a ferry between Polomar and Magarita.

In January, however, Imbert announced that the client in Venezuela experienced financial difficulties and TT was offered a chance to purchase the vessel. The Dona Mercedes then became the Galleons Passage (named after part of the sea off the coast of Toco).

Sunday Newsday sent a question to Imbert and Works Minister and Transport Rohan Sinanan yesterday, on if the newly constructed boat, prior to leaving China for TT in February, had been at port or remained in the shipyard of the builder, Nansha, in Guangzhou, China, between December 2016 and February 2018? There was no response up to press time.

SMC, in its report, also observed that the sea transport specialist in naval architecture who designed the boat did not advertise on its website that it designed any 74-metre vessel “nor does it have any track record available on its website.” And about Nansha shipyard, SMC said, “The shipyard has been building ships for the past 20 years. The yard has worked with the design house for several projects with the Sea Transport design, but actual track records are not listed on the web sites or made available to SMC.”

SMC went on to say the Galleons Passage is worth between US$38 million to US$40 million. TT, through the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO), bought it for US$17.4 million.

The Port Authority of TT was not involved in assessing the deal that was secured through an inter-ministerial committee.

SMC also pointed out that there were no reports on testing for some of the equipment on the vessel in the sea trial and several outstanding items had to be “closed off.” This observation points to retrofitting works that were scheduled to be done by Dutch company Damex in Santiago de Cuba which announced, last week, that works could not be undertaken due to problems with securing materials from Australia.

NIDCO has reduced the scope of the work by Damex and is bringing the vessel home next week.

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