Tobago stakeholders seek update on new cargo vessel

The Emprendedora cargo vessel docked at the Cruise Ship Comple, Port of Spain. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers
The Emprendedora cargo vessel docked at the Cruise Ship Comple, Port of Spain. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers

TOBAGO BUSINESSMEN are calling on Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan to give an update on the government’s plan to acquire a new cargo vessel to service the inter-island sea bridge.

The MV Cabo Star went on drydock on April 6 and is expected to resume operations on April 25. In the meantime, a replacement vessel – the Emprendedora – has been hired to take building materials, trucks, vans, trailers, containers and other cargo to and from Tobago.

The Emprendedora arrived in Port of Spain on April 10 and went into operation on April 11.

The TT Inter-island Transportation Co Ltd said in a release that the vessel’s expected sailing times will be 2 pm from Port of Spain and about 4 am from Tobago the following day “based on the length of the crossing and the loading/offloading process.”

But Newsday learnt that although the Emprendedora has been servicing the route in the absence of the Cabo Star, many businessmen are still experiencing serious difficulties in getting their goods to Tobago.

The situation, they say, is reminiscent of August 23, last year, when the Cabo Star was pulled from the sea bridge for about three weeks for repairs after a fire on board the vessel.

So grave was the disruption at that time, that the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce called for a meeting with the Transport Minister, which he agreed to.

After meeting with the chamber on September 22, last year, in Scarborough, Sinanan told reporters the country could expect a new cargo ferry to service the sea bridge in 18 months.

He said then, that plans to introduce another cargo vessel on the sea bridge were on the table.

“Cabinet did take a decision some time ago to go out for a custom-built cargo vessel to suit our requirements. We did consultations in Tobago with all the stakeholders. We do have the specs for that. We are fine-tuning it now,” Sinanan had said.

On that occasion, chamber president Curtis Williams reported that businesses on the island lost between $7 and $10 million in the food and beverage industry as a result of the Cabo Star being out of commission.

Former president of the Truckers and Traders Association Horace Amede called for a long-term solution to the issues that have been disrupting commercial activity between the two islands over the years,

At present, he said, “Some wholesalers in Tobago have no goods and others are running short.”

Amede said the Emprendedora does not have the Cabo Star’s capacity to transport cargo.

“When you had a vessel bringing so many trucks and it has boiled down now to about 30 trucks a day or less from 250 to 300 a day, this tells you exactly what is happening and you are not getting any answers. When you ask questions nobody gives you any answers.”

The Cabo Star at the Cruise Ship terminal, Port of Spain. - File photo by Ayanna Kinsale

He said the Emprendedora could only take a few small trucks.

“No big trucks could come to Tobago or go back to Trinidad. You are travelling in the open sea to the elements because when the vessel takes 14 hours to Tobago and eight hours to Trinidad, imagine that spray of water for 14 hours going up and eight hours coming down. The life span of your vehicle will naturally deteriorate.”

Amede urged Sinanan to “come clean” about the new cargo vessel.

“We, the truckers, need answers.”

Former chamber president Diane Hadad said the situation at the Port of Port of Spain is untenable.

“There is a back-up of people trying to come to Tobago although they are supposedly using trucks to come on the Galleons Passage of a particular size – 7,000 kg. But that cannot match what the cargo vessel was bringing which would have been about 200 trucks,” she told Newsday.

Hadad said the situation is seriously affecting family life.

“It is not just an economic situation. It actually is a social issue because men are on the port in Trinidad waiting for hours into nights, into days to see when they can get a vehicle on the ferry and similarly there is no proper schedule for this boat (Emprendedora). It is just offloading and turning. So you don’t know when you are going, when you are coming.”

People also cannot leave their vehicles in Trinidad or Tobago unattended.

“So, therefore, these men are having sleepless nights, out of their family homes and the conditions are clearly not humane in terms of how we should be functioning.”

In instances where they are able to get a space on a fast ferry, Hadad said, they usually have to find a driver to come with the truck. This, she said, is an additional cost.

“Whenever they come, we have to put them up here in the night and feed them. I got a small truck on the fast ferry the other day and the man came in the night. I had to find a place to put him. I have to give him dinner and money for breakfast next morning to go back down.

So immediately my goods went up by a couple of hundred dollars. So imagine if that is the case what happening to the cost of your goods?”

Sinanan could not be reached for comment via his cellphone. WhatsApp messages also went unanswered.


"Tobago stakeholders seek update on new cargo vessel"

More in this section