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PATT gets ‘new’ ferry for Tobago

As AG weighs legal action in Galicia deal
Published: 
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The Super Fast Galicia leaves the Port of Port-of-Spain en route to Scarborough, Tobago yesterday. The vessel will makes it's final voyage on Friday.

Members of the public travelling between Trinidad and Tobago will not have to hold any strain when the Super Fast Galicia leaves the inter-island ferry route on Friday.

This is because the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago has organised a replacement ferry - the MV Provider - to pick up the slack almost immediately this weekend.

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and PATT chairman Alison Lewis made the announcement a joint press conference yesterday.

They also revealed that a barge, named the Transporter, will also be put into service between the islands.

The daily rent of the MV Provider, which is scheduled to make its first sailing on Sunday, will be US$14,500 (TT$97,150) while the Transporter will cost between US$8,000 and $10,000 (TT$53,000 to $67,000). However, both vessels will have a longer sailing time to Tobago than the Galicia, which takes five hours.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi also announced at the press conference that he is considering legal action against Transmed, the owners of the Super Fast Galicia, for repudiation of its contractual agreement. The AG said he will make a determination on this matter by tomorrow.

In a text message to Guardian Media Ltd, Al-Rawi, who is now conducting a probe into whether there may have been any wrongdoing in the Galicia deal wrote: “The issue being looked at arises because there was an agreement for 18 months with an expiry date in October 2017. I am currently reviewing all aspects of the procurement of the Galicia, including all contractual arrangements and will provide a clear opinion with recommendations as to the accountability with alacrity.”

Having sought a legal opinion on the matter, Sinanan said during the press conference that there was an 18-month contract in place between Intercontinental Shipping - the provider and PATT to use the vessel, which had to be signed off. He said this arrangement was changed in January because Intercontinental wanted a five-year contract instead. In March, Sinanan said they received a letter from the charter to stop the Galicia’s service since they wanted a five-year contract.

“Intercontinental sent a letter stating that they are going to pull the vessel on so and so date. That has to go to the Attorney General to see if there was any breach of agreement based on advice from senior counsel on this matter,” he said.

Sinanan said contrary to what was put in the public domain, he had no information that the Galicia had a month-to-month contract and files were still being sent to the AG for review.

“I thought that was unacceptable. What we would have in Trinidad was a vessel that came in for six months remaining here for eight years. It’s an arguable position.”

If Government had signed this new arrangement, Sinanan said taxpayers would have had to pay “an additional $300 million without a tendering process.”

This led to Government putting out tenders to obtain a vessel, which would close on April 24. The long term plan, he said, is for Government to buy a cargo vessel which would take 30 months to build and get to our shores.

In 2014, the then People’s Partnership government approved $56 million to lease the Galicia, nine days before it received board approval by PATT.

While the revenue obtained from the Galicia was estimated at $15 million, Sinanan said the annual cost to operate the vessel was $50 million.

He also said that there were problems with the Galicia even before it even came to Trinidad. A report on the vessel, Sinanan said, showed two strengths and five weaknesses, as was reported exclusively in the Sunday Guardian.

“However, I did see a report that the vessel is most suited. That to me is another question that has to be answered. The time lines in this whole scenario does not make sense,” Sinanan said.

“A key point here, is that we have paid an attorney to find a vessel in the billing. That attorney was also a tenderer…. did not submit a tender but was invited to tender. After paying the attorney to find a vessel we ended up with a broker who went and charter a vessel and came back and charter the vessel to us.”

Sinanan said they were now questioning exactly who PATT rented the Galicia from.

“The Government subsidised this by a couple hundred per cent. It is nice to say to get the private sector involved. Is the private sector going to subsidise this by 400 per cent? The answer is no,” he said.

“If we charge the real cost of the transportation, then nobody would be able to afford goods and services in Tobago. We have to work with what is on the table. I know the people in Tobago are suffering.”

Seamless transition Sunday

PATT chairman Alison Lewis gave the assurance that from Sunday there would be a seamless transition in getting cargo to the sister isle.

From a list of ten providers, Lewis said three were short-listed. On Tuesday, she said a tender’s committee did an evaluation and two vessels were selected and recommended to the ministry to transport cargo.

“This is an interim situation and therefore it would be anywhere from six weeks to two to three months. We expect that we would be using the Provider probably…for a month in the first instance with an option for two to three months if needed. For the barge it would be in the vicinity of a month with an option for another month,” Lewis said.

Of the two vessels, Sinanan said the Transporter is a Trinidad-owned barge, while the MV Provider will arrive on Friday.

From Trinidad to Tobago, the Transporter, which will carry construction materials and heavy equipment, will take ten hours, while the Provider, which has a seven to eight-hour sailing time, will be used to transport container cargo and perishable goods, Lewis said.

Asked if the ministry expected criticism from the Tobago Chamber of Commerce about the length of time the barge would take in getting cargo to Tobago, Sinanan said PATT would have to schedule the sailing times to ensure there was no shortage of materials.

“Based on the economic situation the country has found itself in, we may have to look at getting sea transportation at a cheaper cost. And speed means money. So it is something we would have to look at.

“If we have to carry sand, gravel and blocks and spend four hours longer... but it is 50 per cent cheaper in terms of transportation…whether the country wants to look at that. We have to fix this problem once and for all,” Sinanan said.