BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — A private sector-led regional ferry service was launched here on Tuesday aimed at increasing and improving transportation among the Caribbean countries.
The focus routes for the project are Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Dominica, Suriname and Barbados.
“Connect Caribe” said its services will be a game changer in the transportation industry. The three vessels will have the capacity to transport up to 8,000 passengers, cargo and manufactured goods and produce.
Upturn Funds Caribbean in collaboration with Pleion Group Inc. unveiled the joint-venture partnership, which it said has led to the establishment of the new private sector-led ferry company.
Its mission is “to provide the region with world-class transportation and logistics solutions aimed at revolutionising maritime transportation in the Caribbean”.
Upturn Funds Caribbean is a venture capital and advisory firm based in Barbados with headquarters in New York, while the Pleion Group Inc. is a Caribbean and US-based company with offices in the United States, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Jamaica.
The Upturn Funds statement said its “distinguished partners” include Windward Ferries Ltd, the Anthony Hinkson Consultancy, JS Cruises and Tours, and and the Trinidad-based Ramps Logistics.
“The strategic partners promise to bring about a new era of connectivity and accessibility, positively impacting both local communities and regional economies and opening of new markets for Caribbean entrepreneurs, whilst helping to close the gap that has prevented real Caribbean integration.”
Speaking at the regional launch here, Andre Thomas, the co-founder and chief executive officer for the Caribbean region, said the consortium has brought together a variety of experts from different fields.
“We actually realise that the key was finding the success equation that will make this project happen and make this project bankable and make this project profitable and add value to the men and women of the Caribbean, add value to investors, add value to shareholders.
“It became very clear to us that what we had to do was create a consortium that would be made up of key players in different sectors of the maritime industry and also to bring in an e-commerce element to it,” Thomas said.
“We are in talks with the governments … there is a significant discussion on how we can integrate and tackle this huge opportunity and problem. I believe that where there are problems there are opportunities. There will be significant collaboration between the service that will be done by the governments and our service,” Thomas said.
This first phase of the estimated US$50 million project is expected to come on stream during the last quarter of 2024 and will later be expanded to new island routes in the Caribbean Sea.
President and chairman of JS Cruises and Tours and Maritime Institute of Barbados, Judeen Scantlebury, spoke of the value of the service to the region.
“This new ferry service is poised to bring a multitude of benefits to each island in the region, not only will it provide a reliable and efficient transportation for both locals and tourists, but it will also stimulate economic growth, promote tourism and enhance connectivity between the islands.
“I believe that this service has the potential to truly transform the way people travel throughout the region and I am passionate to be a part of this project,” Scantlebury added.
President of the e-commerce division, founder of the Anthony Hinkson Consultancy, Anthony Hickson, told the ceremony that the new initiative would be beneficial to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) that promotes the free movement of goods, skills, labour and services across the region.
“The CARICOM Single Market and Economy is intended to benefit the people of our region by providing more and better opportunities to produce and sell our goods and services and to attract investments.
“It will create one large market among the participating member states,” he said, noting that there are two main challenges to achieving this.
“One, product awareness, second product transport even when we are goods that are produced in other territories the cost of transporting those goods from one territory to another can at time be either prohibitive in costs or prohibitive in terms of time.
“Connect Caribe is addressing these problems through the combination of our e-commerce platform, connect e-shops with the timely and cost effective cargo transport capacity of our inter-island ferries,” he added.
“We are going to be the E-commerce marketplace for the region. Our goal is to facilitate economic transformation within our region by creating this market place which will allow our users to build e-commerce businesses by local, regional, and extra-regional sales.”
The launch of the new initiative comes less than a month after Trinidad and Tobago confirmed that efforts are well advanced for a regional ferry service that would link the country with Guyana and Barbados.
Earlier this month, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali said that the three countries had “formed a joint company that would work for the introduction of a ferry system for passenger and cargo between Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Barbados”.
Ali, who was speaking at the signing ceremony for a new US$35 million Mackenzie/ Wismar Bridge, did not elaborate, but Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, addressing the launch of the Phoenix Park Industrial Estate (PPIE) at Point Lisas in Central Trinidad, said “only recently you would have heard of the closing of discussions and a readiness to establish a regional cargo ferry service between Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.
“This is a decision which is driven by the need to move raw materials and fresh produce from the producing areas to the consumption and manufacturing areas within this sub-zone of CARICOM.”
Rowley told the audience that the “outcome of such a transportation service can only improve our food security, stimulate production across the region, create jobs and support affordable prices of the many agricultural products which we desire at our tables and in our hotels”.
Regional countries have identified both sea and air transportation as a major constraint facing the regional integration movement, CARICOM has set itself a target of reducing its multi-billion US dollar food import bill by 25 per cent by 2025.
In 2022, CARICOM approached the United Arab Emirates for funding to establish this intra-regional ferry service with the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank being tasked with ironing out a proposed roadmap study for a fast ferry service with an initial focus on trade between Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, and Barbados.