Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan said buying Tobago’s cargo vessel is a project that is in the pipeline for 2022.
He said the National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco) had already started the process and will make headway in the coming months.
In an interview with Newsday on Thursday morning at the ministry in Port of Spain, Sinanan said he felt proud of delivering two new catamaran fast ferries –the APT James and Buccoo Reef –in January and April to Tobagonians in 2021. Despite limitations caused by the pandemic, Sinanan said his ministry has not sidelined plans for the seabridge.
In 2017 government first announced it had approved the purchase of a new specially built cargo vessel to satisfy TT’s capacity demands after the owners of the Superfast Galicia unexpectedly withdrew its services.
After that the seabridge used the Atlantic Provider as the short-term solution before the Cabo Star was chartered in 2018 as a medium-term solution.
And although issues on the inter-island seabridge had been stabilised with the arrival of the Cabo Star and the acquisition of three fast ferries, Sinanan said delivering a cargo vessel to Tobago remains on the front burner.
“Nidco has already started that process and we await the findings. Nidco has already engaged in the process of the designs, they already had consultations on what is required. However, we really don’t have a challenge at this point with cargo in Tobago.”
Until then the government will continue to renew its contract with the Cabo Star to prevent a disruption in cargo services.
“A vessel is not something that you could just go to the supermarket and buy. You have to get a vessel especially for us here in TT. Not all vessels could work between our islands, because for the waters between Trinidad and Tobago you have to get a vessel that could manoeuvre between these waters, especially for passengers."
He said there had been no problems on the seabridge since 2018.
"We had perfect vessels operating and finally we had our own vessels built and delivered. Once they are maintained, I think for the next 20 years the seabridge will have enough capacity.
“The focus now is for us to own our cargo vessel and we are working on that…
“And though they want the cargo vessel to move from Trinidad in two, three hours'speed, you can get that, but it’ll be expensive to move with speed…That is why the cost to ship a container is reasonable, but if you try to fly that same container down, it's 20 times the cost. Speed means money.”
Newly appointed Tobago House of Assembly Secretary for the Division of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities, and Transportation Tashia Burris told Newsday anything to bring ease to the people of Tobago and its business community is welcome.
“A cargo vessel will play a huge part in our tourism revival thrust. It’s certainly something we look forward to, because it’s an issue we have been battling for a number of years.
"All Tobagonians want is a solution to work for them. The cargo ferry is the lifeline between Tobago and Trinidad we get the bulk of our goods via that route…As a former port employee, I have an appreciation for some of the issues our business people, truckers and regular people want to do business in Trinidad.”
She looks forward to discussing ways to enhance and maintain the quality of the inter-island voyage with Sinanan in the near future.