Interim chairman of Tobago Business Chamber Martin George has welcomed the new fast fast ferry, Jean de la Valette, which he said will restore confidence to the seabridge.
The vessel arrived on Wednesday, just five days after leaving Spain for what was expected to be a 10-day journey. Looking in pristine shape, George said the boat has automatically elevated the standard of service on the seabridge and the Port Authority must now improve other areas to meet the new benchmark.
He said, “Once you are moving into an area where you are going to have this as part of your tourism thrust for Tobago, whether domestic or for international visitors willing to use the seabridge, we need to have the quality of service and facility at the same level of the vessel. Once the reality matches up to what we have presented in the media then we will attract more people to come to Tobago through the seabridge.
“The Port Authority needs to step up its game, because you can’t have a lovely boat like that, of international standard, and when you are there at the port you are herded like cattle. There aren’t proper facilities at neither the Port-of-Spain or the Scarborough (ports) for travelling public. There’s no WiFi or proper cafeteria where people can have a meal. The authority needs to understand, if they have a world class (boat) plying the route they need to improve the facility and service.”
George said the ferry would have an immediate impact and was a much-needed supplement to the current passenger ferry fleet – TT Spirit and Galleons Passage.
“We have always said there is the need to have a back-up for our back-up. So therefore having another fast ferry on the route is an excellent initiative in that we want to ensure where the transport between Trinidad and Tobago is automatically guaranteed, that nobody would ever have to worry if they can get to go and return to Trinidad.”
Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, in an e-mail correspondence to Newsday, said he was pleased that the Jean de la Valette is now in TT waters and will soon be added to the inter-island route. “The link between Trinidad and Tobago is critical and we continue to see it as a priority. As such, the Government of TT has put this interim measure in place to ensure continued reliability on the seabridge until the arrival of two new fast ferries, which are on order."
Charles said the ferry, which is being leased at TT$263,580 per day, was a good deal for TT as "no cost was too much to guarantee the comfort of passengers in a first-class environment and ensure that the route continues to be serviced consistently.”
The vessel will accommodate 800 passengers and 230 vehicles. It is currently undergoing routine inspection and clearance by Customs and Excise and the process of acquiring relevant approvals and training of local staff, as required for the vessel’s operation, before it sails to Tobago.
While many Tobagonians await its maiden voyage to the island, Minority Leader Watson Duke said the boat is a disgrace to the people of Tobago and he feels disappointed.
He told Newsday, “It is a vessel I refuse to accept because we should have had a brand new vessel here a long time ago, and nobody in Trinidad or Tobago should accept it unless it’s a new boat, not one that has been refurbished after ten years. Major problems with the seabridge occurred in 2017, since then they have spent lots of money for boats that cannot deliver. For instance the corbeaux “Cabo” Star cannot carry passengers and the Galleons Passage cannot carry a certain amount of passengers also because they become very sick. Now they coming with a boat that cost over $300 million, it's only taxpayers' money down the drain. A brand new boat will cost far less than that. They claim they are getting two brand new boats from Australia for less than US$100 million."
The nine-year-old Maltese vessel, which is owned by Virtu Ferries, was leased to the Government for one year.
The TT Spirit is expected to go on dry-dock shortly. Two new ferries are expected to be obtained by Government next year.