WORKS and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan says the country could expect a new cargo ferry to service the inter-island seabridge in 18 months.
Speaking to reporters on Friday after a meeting with the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Scarborough, Sinanan addressed concerns relating to the disruptions caused by the shutdown of the Cabo Star cargo vessel over the past three weeks.
A fire onboard the vessel on August 23 caused it to be pulled from the inter-island route for emergency repairs. It was temporarily replaced by the Venezuelan vessel the Emprendedora. The Cabo Star resumed sailing on Tuesday.
Sinanan said plans to introduce another cargo vessel on the seabridge are very much on the table.
“Cabinet did take a decision some time ago to go out for a custom-built cargo vessel to suit our requirements,” he said. “We did consultations in Tobago with all the stakeholders. We do have the specs for that. We are fine-tuning that now.”
Sinanan said the tender for thnew vessel will be out very soon in the newspapers, similar to what was done when the government acquired the APT James and Buccoo Reef passenger ferries.
“When we go out for a tender like that, it has to be international. So we are working right now on the final logistics of it.”
He said the passenger vessels were acquired by a government-to-government arrangement.
“So we are at the final stage now with the cargo vessels. The most important thing was the spec of the vessel, and we had to get the stakeholders’ buy-in with that.
“What we are doing now is to ask the chamber to just revisit the final specs of it to make sure we are all satisfied – because when we did that consultation would have been some time ago – to see if there are any changes that are required.
“So it’s a process that we include all the stakeholders in. Once we have that final sign-off, we are hoping that by the next month or so we should make that decision to put that RFP out.”
Sinanan said the period for building a cargo vessel is between 14 and 18 months.
“So we are hoping that if things goes well, that we should have that vessel on order and 14-18 months after that, a brand new custom-built cargo vessel to suit our requirements.”
The minister said it is not easy to get a cargo vessel to work between Trinidad and Tobago the way people would want it to work.
“You could either have speed, which is more passenger, and then you have cargo, which is slower. Or, if you have to have a combination, that is a very challenging vessel to get.
“But we are trying to build a vessel where you can get a fair amount of passenger capacity, but really be built for cargo. So that is why we really have to build the vessel that we want.”
Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Curtis Williams, who said he was pleased with the meeting, said businesses on the island lost between $7 and $10 million in the food and beverage industry as a result of the Cabo Star's being out of commission.
“And that is just one industry. We were looking at the food and beverage industry in terms of losses, and I know that figure will definitely climb as we go along,” he said.