( Trinidad Guardian ) Although several heads of government at this week’s 45th Caricom meeting have called for the establishment of a regional fast ferry service, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said it is not something that can be easily afforded.
In fact, Rowley is opposed to a fast ferry altogether. Instead, he suggested Caricom invests in single hull, slower vessels.
In an exclusive sit-down with Caribbean journalist Julian Rogers at the Office of the Prime Minister which was made available to Guardian Media Limited, Rowley said two to four vessels would be sufficient.
“I see people talking about a fast ferry service, they don’t know what they are talking about. We operate a fast ferry between Port-of-Spain and Scarborough, that’s 80 miles. It costs us a fortune and is heavily subsidised. I don’t see it on the cards because the resources are not there.
“If we can get two to four vessels that are purpose-based built for cargo and passengers, like the Federal Maple and the Federal Palm were built, and just operate them. They have to be single hull, slower vessels, not fast ferries,” he said.
He said talks are taking place between Caricom and Middle Eastern countries that are in a position to fund those types of vessels.
Rowley said it costs Government approximately $200 million to $240 million annually to subsidise the fast ferry service between Port-of-Spain and Scarborough.
On Monday, Guyanese President Irfaan Ali confirmed to Guardian Media that discussions about the service were on the agenda for the 45th Caricom Regular Meeting.
“Transportation remains one of the most critical issues of the region. That is why it continues to be on the agenda but we have been making some progress. At least now there are a number of interested parties who would have expressed interest in being part of the solution, so I think we are moving now from that conceptualisation stage to a stronger position of finding a solution,” Ali said in an exclusive interview with Guardian Media at Femmes Du Chalet, better known as the Breakfast Shed, at the Port-of-Spain waterfront.
“We would like it to happen yesterday, that is why it is on the agenda. I think that this update that we get at this meeting would allow us to see how fast we can move and I think what we need to do now is to concretise who the different partners are where we have interest and then pursue those partners,” said Ali.
Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves said his country was very interested in having such an option available.
“We’re very interested in that. The discussion has been going on a long, long time. The question is this—to have a private sector entity with sufficiency of resources and prepared to go for the long haul, with support from governments to do this because there’s a need, there’s a marketplace, but we have had private sector entities come forward in relation,” he said in an interview at the Hyatt Regency yesterday.
Gonsalves noted that there WAs need for improvement in flight options across the Caribbean and acknowledged that Caribbean Airlines (CAL) had announced plans to increase its flights across the region.
“In relation to air transportation, that has been rough since COVID but we have seen some tentative steps. CAL is increasing the number of aircraft, the ATRs, the turbo props, are doing more runs. They’re going to put on more planes in the Eastern Caribbean from July 24. They’re ramping up,” he said.
On Saturday, the airline confirmed its expansion into the Eastern Caribbean with new non-stop services between Barbados and St Vincent, as well as St Lucia. CAL announced increased capacity to Dominica and Grenada, while the Barbados to St Vincent route has been increased to seven weekly services, in addition to four new weekly flights between Barbados and St Lucia with direct St Lucia to St Vincent return flights operating on Thursdays.
Gonsalves said there was need for another Caribbean carrier to service those islands and discussions are underway.