Hundreds of passengers were left stranded in Tobago yesterday, having been bumped off the early sailing of the APT James fast ferry after the Port Authority officials tried to accommodate steelband players who had participated in Sunday’s night’s National Panorama Medium Band competition.
Guardian Media understands that the problem originated due to the overselling of tickets for the APT James’ sailing and several others turning up without confirmed tickets.
The vessel can accommodate a maximum 900 passengers, but the sailing was overbooked for the trip to Port-of-Spain, which was scheduled to leave Scarbrough 6.30 am.
The spill over passengers, numbering over 200, were placed on standby for the 4 pm sailing of the Buccoo Reef. This meant some confirmed passengers booked on the Buccoo Reef sailing were also displaced for that sailing.
However, the problem was exacerbated, as while the Buccoo Reef also had a 900-passenger capacity, only 500 passengers were accommodated after the captain took a decision based on a health and safety issue.
Guardian Media understands the captain, noting that the vessel only had 500 life jackets, determined it would be unsafe to leave Scarborough with a load of 900 passengers.
Some affected ferry passengers then made their way to the ANR Robinson International Airport at Crown Point, hoping to get plane tickets to return to Trinidad, causing some chaos at the airport.
However, Guardian Media was told Caribbean Airlines officials could not accommodate them, as by that time the stand-by list had already been closed.
A senior Port Authority official, speaking to Guardian Media under a condition of anonymity yesterday, confirmed that the fast ferries have been operating below capacity over the last few weeks because of a shortage of life jackets available.
According to the source, the APT James, which can hold up to 900 passengers, was overbooked by 300 passengers yesterday morning and a decision was taken to allow the vessel to leave at its full capacity.
That still meant several hundred passengers had to be left behind and seek accommodation on the Buccoo Reef, which sailed out of Scarborough around 4 pm yesterday. However, the vessel only took around 500 passengers because of the life jacket shortage.
Guardian Media was told many of the passengers who missed the earlier sailing were accommodated on the other vessel, but some still were not able to get on. Contacted yesterday, T&T Inter- Island Transportation Company CEO Vilma Lewis-Cockburn said the backlog may have been people who weren’t necessarily confirmed passengers. However, she couldn’t say how many people were turned away.
“Every peak period in Tobago, you will have persons who will come down and try to get on but we have a limited amount of space so we can’t take everybody who tries to get home,” Lewis-Cockburn said.
She noted too that the vessels can only take the number of people who are covered by insurance.
Also contacted yesterday, Dionne Ligoure, head of Corporate Communications at Caribbean Airlines said, she was unaware of any adverse situation involving passengers.
“I am unaware of any situation of CAL customers being inconvenienced at the ANR Robinson International Airport. There were smooth operations for Sunday and Monday,” Ligoure said, noting everyone who was booked was accommodated.