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PM: 2 new fast ferries to end seabridge woes
The Galleons Passage is on track to arrive in the country on Monday, having left Cuba on its final destination to Trinidad and Tobago, and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is reminding citizens the vessel is “not a fast ferry,” but he says plans are in train to put “to bed once and for all,” problems on the seabridge.
He is also assuring that there is no intention of increasing the $150 airfare between Trinidad and Tobago which is subsidised by the Government.
The Prime Minister addressed issues of the air and seabridge on Tuesday in the midst of concerns by Tobago stakeholders about the economic impact problems on the air and seabridge has had on Tobago.
Speaking on a radio programme on Tuesday, Rowley said the Galleons Passage was purchased at a time when the Government was looking “in desperation for a ferry and we could not find one. We bought the Galleons Passage which is not a fast ferry, it was never a fast ferry, it does Tobago in a longer time,” which is why he said work will be done when the vessel arrives “to make it so much more comfortable.” The trip has been estimated to take just over four hours, one way.
Rowley said the Government had “spent a lot of money and it took time to get the T&T Spirit back in service, we keeping our fingers crossed it is working very well.”
He hopes, however, that there will not be a recurrence of the 10-month period it took to repair the T&T Spirit with the T&T Express.
“We expect the T&T Express back in a shorter time than happened with the Spirit,” Rowley said.
Once the T&T Express is back in service and the Galleons Passage joins the fleet thee will be “three vessels which we expect to have in the immediate future,” he said.
But Rowley said the Government is looking at the Tobago issue in a more long-term way.
“We are aiming to buy two new custom-built ferries,” which he said would be “fast ferries,” and which would be “about 89 metres,” similar to the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express.
Rowley admitted that it would “take some time for them to be built, but if we put the order in now, sometime in the not too distant future, we are going to get two brand new fast ferries, that is what is going to put the Tobago ferry issue to bed once and for all,” he said.
Rowley gave no details about plans for maintenance of the vessels.
Asked what will become of the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express once the new ferries get here, Rowley said, “we are going to sell those.”
In fact, he hinted that a proposal may be on the cards where the vessels may be sold even before the two new ferries arrive “and use that money towards the purchase of the new ones, and we will lease them back from the new owner who wants to make sure they get them down the road.”
The Prime Minister said the prospective purchaser is prepared to purchase the ferries up front “and leave us with them until we get the new ferries,” that he said is one of the possibilities, “but certainly when we get the new ones we will dispose of those.”
On the issue of the airbridge, the Prime Minister said he thought Caribbean Airlines (CAL) had been doing “a reasonably good job and they aiming to improve it.”
He said there are currently “five planes operating, they run a schedule that gives a certain number of seats.” The problem, he said, is that many people want to travel at the same time.
“Friday evening and they all want to come back at the same time Sunday night, so you have a problem.”
Despite the introduction of a $50 penalty fee by CAL last year for passengers who miss their confirmed flights, Rowley said the cost of the subsidised airfare will not be increased, “we don’t have any plans right now with respect to the increase in cost.”
CAL announced this week that it will be providing 84,228 seats on the airbridge this month July and 83,784 seats in August, for a total of 168,012 seats for the vacation period.
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