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Friday 15 February 2019
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Rough Passage

If nothing else, the journey of the Galleons Passage has provided comprehensive instruction to the government on how to plan for the seabridge between Trinidad and Tobago.

Or how not to.

The vessel is yet to carry a single commercial passenger between our island’s ports, but every news update suggests that the team responsible for its purchase, refitting, transfer to this country and someday, it’s actual deployment as a working vessel, should hew more closely to the tailor’s rule to measure twice and cut once. More so when the ‘suit’ costs millions and its customers have been clamouring for a fitting for months.

The most recent glitch in the sea trials of the ship came when it appeared for the first time in Tobago’s waters and proved unable to dock. Despite reassuring press releases insisting that a stern docking should work, it was clear that the bow ramp couldn’t be used. Because of the design of the Galleon’s Passage, a bow approach is preferable, but by now, any reasonable person would accept any productive docking between the vessel and the Tobago port. But even that didn’t happen after the ship’s captain determined that one more thing was needed, a bow thruster to improve the docking procedure.

This all seems surreal.

The distance between promises and reality at every stage of the procurement of the Galleons Passage raises questions about the quality of liaison between the technical team responsible for putting the vessel into service and the political interests keen to promote every new development as a success.

There was something slapstick about the idea of this vessel traveling from Australia to Hong Kong to Cuba over the course of six months and at the end of it all, not being able to dock at its intended destination. It would be like building a custom kitchen, buying a stove and then figuring out how to make it fit. Except that this particular bit of machinery cost more than TT$100 million and its exact configuration and capabilities, including its docking requirements, have been known to technocrats for almost a year. To meet the demands of the seabridge, the government has put out a tender for the leasing of a fast ferry and the possible purchase of two new fast ferries to meet inter-island transport demand.

There have been some laudable efforts at transparency in the long process of bringing this ship into service, and while the government has been stung repeatedly as a result, that’s how honesty works. Sometimes it gets you a slap in the face, but the lesson to be learned here is to be more methodical in planning, not less forthcoming.

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