AT 3 pm on Tuesday, the new fast ferry Buccoo Reef docked in Port of Spain after a long voyage from Tasmania, Australia where it was built by the Incat shipyard.
Witnessing the arrival was Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and Nidco chairman Herbert George, port staff and media workers. However, no-one boarded the vessel which remains under quarantine with its crew for the next two weeks. Sinanan hoped the vessel could start work on the seabridge within a month.
George said the vessel's capacity was 1,000 people, but under covid19 protocols would likely follow the example of other ferries locally and operate at a 75 per cent capacity.
"It all depends on what obtains when the vessel is ready to hit the road." It could range from 500 to 1,000, he added, based on the Minister of Health's recommendations.
Sinanan saw the arrival as "a significant milestone" after the Government had in 2017 said it was seeking new ferries.
Referring to the previous arrival of the ferry APT James, he quipped, "All I can say is two down, one to go."
He said Cabinet had approved the search for a new cargo vessel for which a tender would soon be issued by Nidco.
Sinanan hailed all who had worked to acquire the Buccoo Reef, noting its genesis with the Prime Ministers of Trinidad and Tobago and Australia, who had met at a Commonwealth heads meeting in London.
While TT faces the covid19 pandemic, he said the ferry acquisition was an example of light at the end of the tunnel.
"We anticipate that in about a month or so we should be able to make that journey to Tobago, if not sooner.
"When you look at the vessel, I think its the most modern passenger ferry of its kind in any part of the world. A small nation like Trinidad and Tobago, we definitely have to be very proud knowing that today we can boast of having the most modern fast ferry in the world. So it is really a big achievement for us, a very proud moment for us."
George gave the vessel's specs, namely a capacity of 1,000 passengers and 250 cars. "It is 100 metres long, slightly longer than the APT James. The price tag was US$72.9 million." He said it could do the journey at the same speed as the APT James, but under caution so as not to create undue wakes when leaving and entering port at each end of its journey.
"It will accomplish the journey in the time we have grown accustomed to."
He said the ferry has features to create a smooth ride, namely ridership control to let it rise and skim over the waves.
"It is a longer vessel too, so it has better sea-keeping (that is, an ability to navigate choppy seas.)"
George said the engines were initially clogged by particles, which had made it turn back for repairs in Tasmania. He suggested that it could have been due to a lack of an initial flushing out of the engines.
After two weeks of quarantine of crew, if all is well then the vessel will be sanitised for use, George said. He vowed the ferry would be well maintained, noting it has one year of insurance since TT took delivery. He said Incat was not an unknown firm, having also built the ferry TNT Spirit.