Second cargo ferry coming
Second cargo ferry coming
Within ‘14 to 18 months’, says Sinanan
Head of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George has welcomed Friday’s announcement by Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan that if all goes well, within 14-18 months, Trinidad and Tobago should have a new custom-built cargo vessel to service the inter-island seabridge.
“As a Tobago Business Chamber, we have said repeatedly that there is need for a second cargo vessel, so if this will now be a second cargo vessel, in addition to the Cabo Star, then that is very much needed and most welcomed on the route between Trinidad and Tobago,” George said on Saturday.
“It will ease the strain on the Cabo Star. When one of the vessels needs to be drydocked, then at least the other one will be functioning fully. So these are things that are definitely progressive,” he added.
On Friday, Sinanan met with the Tobago arm of the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, other business groups, and officials of the Port Authority and National Infrastructure Development Company Ltd (Nidco).
George told the Express in a phone interview that he was unable to attend the meeting, but two directors of the group were part of the discussions and made contributions.
“All in all, the meeting was a good meeting from the reports we had from our directors. I just hope that there is the implementation, because you can talk and talk and talk, but if there is no action following the talk then of course it is useless,” he said.
The Express tried to reach Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly Farley Augustine, THA Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith B.Yisrael and Secretary of Tourism, Culture, Antiquities and Transportation Tashia Burris for comment on Sinanan’s announcement, but they did not respond to telephone calls.
RFP for new
vessel by October
Speaking to reporters following Friday’s meeting, Sinanan announced that by next month, the Government should put out a request for proposal (RFP) for the new custom-built cargo vessel.
“The time span for a cargo vessel is between 14 and 18 months, so we are hoping that if things go well we should have that vessel in order and, 14 to 18 months after that, a brand new, custom-built cargo vessel to suit our requirements,” he said.
“It is not easy to get a cargo vessel to work between Trinidad and Tobago the way we want it to work because you could either have speed, which is more passenger(-based), and then you have cargo, which is slower.
“If you have to have a combination, that is a very challenging vessel to get. But we are trying to build a vessel where we could get a fair amount of passenger capacity, but really be built for cargo. So that is why we have to build the vessel that we want,” he said.
Sinanan’s meeting with the Tobago Chamber and other stakeholders followed major disruptions on the seabridge caused by the Cabo Star’s absence for almost a month.
On August 23, a fire broke out in the Cabo Star’s engine room, causing damage to cables and an auxiliary engine.
The vessel was repaired and resumed operations last week Tuesday.
While it was down, the MV Emprendedora, a Venezuelan landing craft chartered by Bridgemans Service Group (owner of the Cabo Star), assisted in servicing the route, along with the APT James, MV Galleons Passage and the Buccoo Reef.
The seabridge disruptions led to severe shortages of food supplies and construction material in the sister island, Tobago businesses reported.
Chairman of the Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce Curtis Williams estimated losses for businesses over the period to be between $7-$10 million.
Sinanan described Friday’s meeting as excellent.
“Most of the concerns were presented to us before and we have found solutions, and most of them are ongoing. I think coming out of the discussions today the impression I got was that they were quite pleased with it. We will work together to ensure whatever challenges, whatever problems, that they are all being addressed,” he assured.
He said discussions around a new cargo vessel were not new.
“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 that now and we indicated to the Chamber very soon they will see that tender in the newspaper for a new custom-built cargo vessel built to suit our requirements, similar to what we did with the passenger ferry service, where we have two brand new vessels built to suit our requirements,” he said.
“If we go out for a tender for a vessel it has to be international, so we are working right now on the final logistics of it. Remember the passenger vessels were done via government-to-government arrangement, so we are at the final stage now with the cargo vessel,” Sinanan said.
“The most important thing now was the specs of the vessel. We have to get the stakeholders buy-in with that. We have asked the Chamber to just revisit the final specs on it, to make sure that we are all satisfied, because when we did that consultation it would have been some time ago. So it’s a process that we include all the stakeholders in. Once we have that final sign-off, by next month or so we should make that decision to put that RFP out,” he added.
Giving an update on the T&T Spirit, which is currently out of service, Sinanan said by November, the passenger/vehicle ferry should be back up and running.
“In case you have another cargo vessel that is down, the Spirit should be able to take up a significant amount of cargo as well,” he said.
“We are hoping to have the Spirit back. The Spirit has a challenge where we had to drydock the Spirit. Right now the (drydocking) facility in Trinidad is under repairs so we are hoping that by October this year there is a vessel coming into Trinidad that can do the service on the Spirit, to drydock the Spirit,” he said.
“We are hoping that if things work out, we should have the Spirit back up and running by probably November,” he said.
Sinanan said the ministry had a great relationship with the Chamber and will continue to collaborate with the group.
“I indicated to the chairman of the Port Authority that we should have members represented on the Chamber as well, so that we don’t have to wait for a letter to come to the minister,” he said.
CAL a no-show
Williams said the Chamber was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
“We were pleased with all the responses we got to the questions we tabled at the meeting, especially ones to deal with issues affecting Tobago, in terms of even when a cruise ship is in port in Port of Spain and the Cabo Star couldn’t sail,” he said.
But George expressed disappointment that no representatives from Caribbean Airlines were present at the meeting to answer questions from stakeholders.
“The minister did indicate that he had specifically invited CAL to send representatives. So it appears that Caribbean Airlines continues to be a law unto itself, an entity with no guard rails around it. It appears that they are accountable to no one and to no entity and, as a result, we are still in a serious dilemma when it comes to the functioning and operations of the airbridge between Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
“We have the upcoming Tobago Carnival so who knows what would be the arrangements, whether they would be putting on additional flights. So it’s really something that is concerning that you would have the Minister issuing an invitation to CAL to send a representative and they still would not show up,” George added.
By: Leah Sorias