FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert yesterday admitted regret at giving the country a timeline for the arrival of the Galleons Passage. “Yes. And I will never do that again. In fact, the next time you will be told when (the next vessel) is already here,” Imbert said bluntly, when asked by reporters, during a media tour of the boat’s interior, if he regretted giving his initial April arrival timeline.
The long-awaited vessel finally sailed into its home port of Port of Spain around 11 pm on Monday night, docking at the Cruise Ship Complex, 145 days after it left Nansha, China on February 27.
Imbert, who as chairman of the Cabinet committee in charge of sourcing a new passenger ferry to service the inter-island sea bridge, became the de facto government spokesman for the boat’s location, giving regular updates in Parliament and via his personal Twitter account.
CHINA TO TT VOYAGE
Most of the delays appeared to be unavoidable, due more to marine traffic than technical issues. The first delay, however, was because of Chinese New Year. The boat was scheduled to leave on February 9 and arrive in early April, but paperwork was held back when offices shut down for the annual celebration.
When it finally left three weeks later, the boat “encountered difficulty at various ports,” Imbert said. In Shanghai, its next port of call after Nansha, there were delays with docking, same as the next port in Yokohama, Japan.
In Hawaii, there was an Easter holiday break where the port of Honolulu was shut down for four days, and then at the Panama Canal, the boat was forced to queue, and only allowed to pass after “supertankers” had gone through.
“So there were unforeseen delays as it went along based on what happened in the ports they went through and I am telling you I am never taking anybody’s word for this again. I will tell you when the boat arrives. I am not making that mistake again. I am not involved in the next two boats so I will see when they come,” Imbert said.
His Cabinet colleague, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, who also attended yesterday's tour, added cheekily, “I will never listen to what he says and repeat it either.” Imbert responded with a laugh, “Don’t try that Rohan, is you tell me,” before adding again to the media, “Anyway, the bottom line is, we should not have given that April date. And next time we will just inform you when it arrives.”
The Galleons Passage is expected to be put to service the interisland sea bridge as soon as possible, which, according to Imbert, “barring unforeseen circumstances” will be in the next two to three weeks. Sinanan added that the vessel still needs to get its class certification (for safety and seaworthiness) as well as a new crew.
The National Infrastructure and Development Company (Nidco), which is supposed to manage the service, is already in the “advanced stage” of settling those matters, he said.
Before coming to Trinidad the boat had stopped in Santiago de Cuba, where the dealer, Australian company Sea Transport Solutions, was supposed to retrofit the sundeck with a canopy but because of difficulty getting parts into Cuba, and the ensuing delays, the government recalled the vessel to Trinidad.
That won’t prevent the boat from sailing, though, and Imbert said that the government will have to make a decision on whether or not it will continue with the process. It did mean that the boat, which cost about US$17 million, has now come in under budget. Passengers will ultimately decide if the sundeck stays as is, or is redone.
Some people like the sun, Sinanan said, and there are covered areas on the deck, but tourists especially may prefer to have an area uncovered. If passengers say they want another canopy, then the work will be done after the July/August vacation period, he said.
Fast Ferry Facts
The Galleons Passage is 74 metres long, shorter than the two vessels already on the sea bridge fleet, the TT Spirit (currently in dry dock) and the TT Express, which are both 90 metres long.
It has a passenger capacity of 700 people and space for 100 cars. It’s also slower than the other two vessels, so the Port of Spain to Scarborough trip will take about four and a half hours, compared to two and a half being done by the others.
International Marine Services Ltd, an Australian company charged with delivering the boat to Trinidad, has been retained on a one-year contract to maintain the vessel, although during that year, Nidco will tender for a three-year contract for maintenance.