THE TOBAGO Business Chamber has scoffed at claims of a food crisis on the island owing to the absence of the cargo vessel MV Cabo Star from the inter-island seabridge.
The boat is out of action after a fire on board on August 23.
Chamber chairman Martin George said on Wednesday in a WhatsApp voice note: “As far as the claims which have been made as to Tobago running out of food and food shortages and the crises that some were clamouring about, we of the Tobago Business Chamber always try to avoid histrionics and the overdramatisation of issues such as that.
“From what we saw, going around to supermarkets in Tobago, there was very little evidence supporting the claims of empty shelves or of people running out of food.”
He said while the island’s food supply would have been affected by the absence of the Cabo Star over the past three weeks, attempts had been made to accommodate smaller trucks to carry food supplies.
“So therefore it is really the hardware (stores) and the dry-goods stores and those who really need the bulk items who would really have been affected.”
But George said the situation presents an opportunity for Tobago to increase its food production.
“If one cargo vessel is down for a few days and you are talking about a food crisis and a food shortage, you ask yourself, ‘Where is the food that is supposed to be produced in Tobago? Where is the agricultural sector? What is the THA doing to try to develop a proper agricultural sector in Tobago?
“You can’t be talking about autonomy, independence and secession and all of these lofty ideas when you cannot even feed yourself for a day or a week. Where is the production of food in Tobago?
“You have hotels that you want to bring into the island. You have businesses. When they need food supplies, you are going to have to be importing it all the time. Why is Tobago in that position?”
George recalled Tobago once supplied food to Trinidad and other parts of the region.
“So we urge Tobagonians to use this opportunity for some introspection and self-reflection, and we urge the THA to really come up with a plan to revive or maybe restart a proper and vibrant agricultural sector.”
He said while the association welcomed the temporary replacement for the Cabo Star, Emprendedora, there is urgent need for another cargo vessel to service the seabridge.
“We raised the question with the Port Authority as to why there has not been the provision of a permanent secondary vessel for the cargo run.”
George said it was obvious the MV Cabo Star alone cannot take the load between Trinidad and Tobago all the time.
“The vessel will break down at times. It will need scheduled maintenance.
"So there, I would think that it’s basic common sense and planning and management to have a second vessel on the run which will ease the strain on the Cabo Star, ease the wear and tear, and also have a vessel in place all the time for when one of the other vessels have to go on the dry dock.
“So we think that the Port Authority ought to use this as an opportunity to engage in purchasing a second vessel.”