Several of the ferry boats in SVG are little more than old tubs, fit only for the scrap yard. I can imagine what a difficult business it must be to earn a profit from the Bequia run alone. I think that even that run, for some of those ferries, is a run too far.
I have sailed many times on the Bequia car ferries when, because of the numbers of vehicles, the loading ramp is only partially up. That procedure is what has caused the loss of several ferries in Europe and elsewhere. A ferry sank on the English to France channel crossing when vehicles and passengers were lost, the vessel was inundated with sea water through the partially lowered loading ramp. The ferry operators are aware of this problem yet still do it.
About 12 years ago, an underwriter friend at Lloyds of London and Grenadine visitor, informed me that one a ferry operator had stopped renewing their Insurance cover that covered passenger and vehicle liability. He said they had refused to pay the increased rates. I just hope that the Government picked up on that, and that situation no longer exists.
In August 2008, a new ferry service was announced to commencing service in that year. It was to be called “Caribbean Rose” and was to originate in Trinidad. There was an article that said the ferry had arrived from Canada to be “outfitted” and would travel a route to include St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Barbados. Since then I haven’t found any additional information. So obviously, someone’s brilliant idea was scrapped.
In January 2012, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister St. Vincent and the Grenadines, announced plans by Trinidad’s Transport Minister, Devant Maharaj, to fast track the regional ferry service between this country and four southern Caribbean islands.
The service was projected to be launched in 2012 and was to be based in Port-of-Spain and extend in its First Phase to Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia and Barbados.
The service was to cater to foot passengers as well as vehicles and containerised and break-bulk cargo. The operating company proposed to offer 100,000 seats a year with the average price of a seat ranging between US$25 and US$35.
Of course once the PM announced this service it was jinxed with the kiss of death, it never happened.
Then a very brave man decided to buy a fast ferry. If it was a car, it would be described as a “gas guzzler”. But that is the problem with all fast ferries, they use copious amounts of fuel and have a very high maintenance cost.
The fast ferry currently in service is a passenger ferry only, no facility for cars or trucks. Built like an aircraft it skims through the seas at a maximum speed of 34 knots.
I think if we want to keep the fast ferry service, the Government should consider paying towards the operating cost of say EC$500,000 a year. That would encourage and support the operator in staying in what is currently a loss making business. Otherwise there is a more than a good possibility that we will lose this service.
When you consider the government is willing to give LIAT $20 million a year $500,000 a year is a small amount to protect our water transported tourism sector.
I think for the good of the ferry services in SVG waters, for the good of the citizens, for the good of tourism, all approved ferry services should receive some form of financial help. I am talking about cash help, I am aware that as a concession the ferry companies pay no tax on their earnings and no import duty on replacement vessels, but there are virtually no profits anyway not to pay tax on.
Thank you, ferry operators, for your dedication to SVG’s tourism, the Grenadine folk and movement of school children and the infirm.
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