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Travelling public deserves a proper explanation

Saturday, July 15, 2017
The Ocean Flower

The travelling public, and the people of Tobago in particular, in fact all who have been facing hardships and inconveniences due to ongoing problems with the inter-island passenger and cargo ferries, are owed a proper response to all their questions and concerns about that malfunctioning service.

The expected arrival of the Ocean Flower 2 evokes, at best, cautious optimism because there are no guarantees that it will end the painfully protracted crisis created when the Super Fast Galicia was pulled from the route in April. The paltry explanations and assurances offered by Works Minister Rohan Sinanan and officials of the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) have not helped and now there are more questions and concerns about the replacement vessels obtained at a high cost to taxpayers.

The Ocean Flower 2, which is due to dock in Port-of-Spain any day now, is more than two decades old, giving rise to speculation that it might not have been the best choice for the inter-island service.

While the contract for the one-year lease of the vessel includes penalty clauses, couldn’t the authorities have opted for the newer and better vessels offered by Inter-Continental Shipping? Given the problems currently being experienced with the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express, an ageing vessel hardly seems a viable alternative, even as a temporary fix.

A lot about the current seabridge crisis is still a mystery but its genesis lies somewhere between the decision to not renew the contract for the Galicia, the resignation of former PATT chairman Christine Sahadeo and the appointment of Sinanan as Works and Transport Minister. Ever since, ordinary citizens who depend on the inter-island passenger and cargo services have been paying a heavy price for decisions completely out of their control.

The Galicia, which never failed the people of T&T for the duration of its service, cost the country US$14,700 a month, which is considerably less than the soon-to-arrive Cabo Star which does not come with guarantees of the same quality and consistency of operation. Now to add to the uncertainty comes reports of problems with the Ocean Flower 2, which has had to make frequent stops en route to T&T—either to refuel or because of mechanical breakdowns, depending on which explanation seems more plausible.

PATT officials were quick with a denial when a media house reported problems with the passenger ferry which seems to be making a very slow journey from South Korea. At last report, it was somewhere in Alaska heading south and navigating some disturbed weather along the way which has considerably slowed its progress.

These reports, unconfirmed though they may be, do not inspire confidence that there will be smooth sailing when this vessel and the Cabo Star begin operating on the seabridge. It also doesn’t help that key stakeholders such as the truckers and representatives of Tobago’s business community were left completely out of the decision making when these vessels were leased.

All of these scenarios combined now place an additional demand on Minister Sinanan and the current PATT chairman Allison Lewis who must, in the interest of transparency and accountability, be more open in reporting to taxpayers about the increasingly costly and time consuming inter-island ferry situation.

With all that has already happened and the likelihood of future consequences, particularly for Tobago’s tourism-dependent economy, a proper explanation is in order.


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