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Chinese New Year delays Tobago ferry

Friday, February 16, 2018
Photo by:Mark Thomas

Chinese New Year celebrations have stalled the release of sailing permits to allow the $120m new passenger ferry, Galleons Passage, to travel to T&T, according to Finance Minister Colm Imbert. The permits are necessary to allow the ferry to sail across the Pacific Ocean and through the Panama Canal en route to this country.

In two tweets from Imbert’s Twitter account the information was released.

The T&T Guardian reported yesterday that the ferry, which was scheduled to sail from China on Carnival Friday, but was still docked at a port in Guangzhou, China. There was no information as to when the vessel will set sail for its journey.

In an apparent response, Imbert tweeted: “Chinese New Year (CNY) celebrations have delayed the process for acquiring the required permits for trans-Pacific ocean travel and Panama Canal.” The Chinese New Year is today February 16.

But the celebrations begin weeks before and end more than a week later. Imbert said those celebrations will end in a week’s time and “thereafter the Galleons Passage will travel 11,000 nautical miles from Hong Kong to POS. #FerryFacts”

There is currently no ferry passenger in operation after the lone vessel, T&T Express, was pulled off-route because of insurance issues on Carnival Friday. Since then, ferry passengers have been shuttled from the Port of Port-of-Spain and Scarborough to the Piarco and Crown Point airport to travel by plane.

The Minister—who led a four-member Ministerial Committee which oversaw the procurement of the Galleons Passage at a cost of US$17.4 million, stated on Twitter that “preparations for Chinese New Year usually start the week before and this year began on February 8, 2018.”

On February 8, Imbert posted on his Twitter account that the Galleons Passage “was today registered in the name of the National Infrastructure Development Company of Trinidad and Tobago.” He said an experienced crew was being mobilised to sail the vessel to Port-of-Spain. An additional sum of US$800,000 is needed to fund the voyage to T&T.

The US$17.4 million, less a five per cent retention fee, according to Imbert was also paid on February 8. On February 5, Imbert stated that the vessel “is scheduled to set sail for Trinidad and Tobago on February 9th, 2018.”

Yesterday, Imbert said “the shipyard in Nansha is currently closed until next week,” and the processing of ocean-permits for the trans-Pacific voyage was “unavoidably delayed.”

Maritime experts told the T&T Guardian that the team negotiating for the Government in China should have been aware that permits were required for the voyage and every effort should have been made to secure the required permits before the Chinese New Year affected businesses.

The T&T Guardian was told that the authorities will need to inform the naval authorities of various countries of their crossing so as to avoid acts of piracy en route to Trinidad and Tobago.

One expert said there is a concern that the vessel is “of extreme shallow draft and the captain may want to cross coastal as much as possible, although he may need to use open seas in some parts.”

Maritime experts told the T&T Guardian the easiest passage for the vessel is via Hawaii, not going all the way up to Russia then coming through the Alaska route which was used by the Ocean Flower 2— another passenger ferry which had been chosen for the seabridge but the contract was later terminated.


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