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New ferry to arrive in April

Published: 
Friday, January 19, 2018
Finance Minister Colm Imbert, left, and Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister Stuart Young during yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing at the Diplomatic Centre, in St Ann’s.

The US$17.4 million catamaran to service the inter-island seabridge is now expected to arrive on our shores from China by the middle of April.

This means that the vessel which is still docked in China will be delayed by a month.

And it would also cost taxpayers an additional US$800,000 in associated fees, moving the total bill so far to US$18.2 million (TT$127.4m).

Finance Minister Colm Imbert gave the details at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference. Last week, he had said the boat would have arrived within the next “two months.”

He said the cost of the vessels will be recovered within two years, noting that is was more expensive to lease a similar vessel in the long-term.

Annually, Imbert said it costs Government “$50 million in rental cost for those leased vessels.”

The new ferry is expected to complement the existing fleet of the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express and as such the problems of the past when one of the vessels is down for repairs there will not be “a tremendous strain” for passengers.

The T&T Spirit has been taken out of service for major repairs in June last year and the T&T Express, which was scheduled to a maintenance check in December, has been granted an extension to operate until the end of next month.

In December, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had promised to have the seabridge issue sorted out by Christmas.

Yesterday, Imbert said the vessel is expected to leave China en route to Trinidad this month.

“It would take approximately two months to get here. So that we expect that it would arrive sometime in the middle of April. That is my guess. It would arrive then if all goes well… if it does not encounter any problems along the way.”

Imbert said what was attractive about the vessel it would be perfect for the proposed Toco to Tobago ferry route.

“It would make that journey in one hour.”

The vessel, he said, would be named after the body of water between Trinidad and Tobago —Galleons Passage.

Questioned about the sailing time of the new vessel, Imbert said it would take about four hours to make the journey from the Port of Port-of-Spain to the Port of Scarborough.

Asked if the new vessel will take longer with its sailing time than the T&T Spirit and T&T Express, Imbert said: “That is a good question because what we decided to do was go and check the records and see how fast the boats have been making that trip over the last two years.”

He said the average sailing time was four hours and 15 minutes.

“When the boats were newer they were making the trip in three and three and a half hours. So this boat is expected to make the trip in four hours.”

However, PRO of the Inter-Island Transportation Company Vilma Lewis-Cockburn said yesterday that the average sailing time of the T&T Spirit and T&T Express was three hours.

Pressed further as to if there will be associated costs in obtaining the Galleons Passage, Imbert said yes.

“It’s going to cost us US$800,000 to sail the vessel from China to Trinidad and Tobago.”

He said T&T would also have to pay the invoice of £10,000 (TT$100,000) for the services of a United Kingdom lawyer.

How boat was acquired

The Finance Minister yesterday outlined the seven failed attempts by the Port Authority of T&T over a three year period to get a vessel. He said because of the repeated cancelations the Cabinet decided that it was appropriate to appoint an interministerial committee to do a worldwide search for a vessel.

The Port Authority had selected the Ocean Flower 2 to service the route but the contract was terminated in August after the vessel failed to arrive on time. A cargo vessel, MV Cabo Star leased from the same company Bridgemans Services, is currently being used on the route.

The committee, which was led by Imbert, prepared a short list of 10 ship brokers inviting them to submit proposals for leasing or purchase of a vessel.

“During the course of inquiries, Imbert said the committee became aware of a brand new ferry which is located in a shipyard in China.”

He said one of the ship brokers put out enquiries to all of its customers and one of its affiliates, Sea Transport Corporation of Australia, was in the process of constructing a ferry for a Venezuelan operator who could not complete the boat’s purchase because of the economic situation. The boat is owned by Sea Transport, Imbert said.

After this came to the Government’s attention, Imbert said they reviewed its specifications and reasonable price and jumped at the opportunity to buy. Imbert said they had conducted valuations on the vessel and was satisfied.

He said the Government commissioned Lloyd’s Register of Hong Kong to inspect the vessel, while they retained experts out of Australia—a company named Schulte Marine—to be a second independent pair of eyes.

They also engaged marine experts from the University T&T to go to China.

In addition, they also engaged Dun and Bradstreet to conduct a financial and forensic check on the shipyard, the owner and builder and hired an expert counsel from the United Kingdom.

Imbert said Lloyd’s, Schulte Marine and the experts from UTT attended the sea trials and inspected the vessel.

“So we now have three inspection reports. And these three reports have satisfied us (committee) that this vessel was worthy of consideration. We decided whatever we did was legally and commercially correct and would be in the best interest of the population.”

ABOUT THE CATAMARAN

• It has an aluminium superstructure and steel design.

• It is 74 metres in length and has a 2.75 draft.

• It can berth anywhere in the port without dredging.

• It can accommodate 700 passengers and 100 vehicles.

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