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Saturday 15 December 2018
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Commentary

No bridge, plenty troubled water

REGINALD DUMAS

AS WE KNOW, an intended sea bridge ferry, The Galleons Passage, was unable to dock in Scarborough at the end of its trial run from Port of Spain on September 1.

Port Authority chairman Lyle Alexander was quoted in the September 2 Sunday Express as saying that “(t)he boat came in straight on the bow. However, the Scarborough jetty was not designed to receive the bow ramp but the stern ramp,” and the captain thought it would pose a risk to turn the vessel around, because he could not get enough power on the bow thruster.

The Trinidad Guardian of September 5 quoted Minister Rohan Sinanan as saying the captain, who is not a local and “went bow in” (which I assume means a local captain wouldn’t have done such a thing), felt that he wasn’t “getting full power on the stern thrusters” (one or more thrusters? Bow or stern?), and that in any case there was nothing to offload – this was just a trial run, after all.

Further, all seabridge vessels had “challenges in berthing… and you (had) to improvise.” (Improvise! So that’s what happens! What about the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea [SOLAS], to which we are a party?)

Newsday of the previous day had reported him as saying that there was “no major challenge to… berthing.”

On September 2, Newsday had already quoted the minister to the effect that the vessel could “dock stern on, like all other vessels,” but that the authorities wanted to try a bow docking. That didn’t happen, and, he continued, “it docked stern on.” But I thought that the vessel hadn’t docked at all? And that in any case (if Col Alexander is correct) the Scarborough dock was “not designed to receive the bow ramp but the stern ramp?”

Nidco issued a media release on September 1 saying that the objectives of the vessel’s trial run were “to establish the duration of the journey to Tobago, ie, speeds, overall quality of the on-board experience and to check some passenger safety features.”

It added: “We also sought to determine the more suitable berthing option, since the vessel is equipped with both bow and stern ramps. Based on the trial, we have determined that docking at both ports would be via the stern ramp.”

May I ask the following questions?

The Guardian of May 17 reported Col Alexander as saying that the Cabinet had “approved (nearly) $8m (for) the Port Authority… to get the (PoS and Scarborough) ports ready for the Galleons Passage.” Work to accommodate the vessel at both locations was “being done right now.”

Since the specifications and dimensions of the ferry and of the Scarborough port were already known, what precisely was the nature of this “work?” Has it been done? (It clearly didn’t involve modification of the Scarborough port to allow for both bow and stern berthing.) And if the boat had to dock stern-first since the Scarborough jetty was so designed, and had not been modified, why weren’t prior arrangements made for it to have an adequate thruster to allow such docking?

Why would Nidco say that one of the objectives of the trial run was to “determine the more suitable berthing option,” when it appears, foreign captain or not, that there was only one option? And why would the trial run of a ferry, any ferry, be confined to speed, onboard experience and “some” (not all) safety features, and omit berthing and loading? Don’t passengers want to come off a boat at the end of their trip?

If the oblique reference to the captain’s “foreignness” suggests that he was operationally unfamiliar with the route and the ports, why (so it seems) was he not accompanied by a knowledgeable local?

Nidco says the trial run took four and a half hours. But the boat was carrying only a few people. When fully loaded with passengers, vehicles and crew, how long is it likely to take? How are sea conditions at different times of the year likely to affect performance?

Newsday of September 9 reports chairman Alexander as saying that the vessel was expected to return to Tobago between September 6 and 8. (It didn’t.) The same story reports Minister Sinanan as saying he had no information on that. The following day, September 10, he was reported as saying he had been advised that tests (what tests?) were being done on the vessel while it was “berthed in PoS.” I imagine a boat cannot simultaneously be berthed and be sailing, but who knows.

Finally, may I ask that a comprehensive, transparent statement on the sea bridge issue (including the Galicia and the Cabo Star) be made by one authorised source? There are now too many official cooks in this broth.

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