As the country is made up of two separate islands, Trinidad and Tobago’s infrastructure is essential for its economic prosperity. However, the available forms of transport between the islands, consisting of one cargo vessel, two ferries and water taxis, is limited and in need of upgrades. The sole cargo vessel, the Superfast Galicia, was built in 2002 and chartered in 2014. The larger of the two ferries, the HSC T&T Spirit, was launched in 2002 and used for military purposes by the US Army until it was converted to transport civilians in 2005, while the smaller of the ferries, the T&T Express, was built in 1997 and purchased by the government in 2006.
Both of the passenger ferries are scheduled to travel daily between Port of Spain in Trinidad and Scarborough in Tobago, with an estimated 4.5- to 5-hour travel time. However, a reoccurring need to service the vessels for repairs in 2017 and the first half of 2018 has led to public frustration and delays. Complaints have also been made regarding the unreliability of the water taxis.
Although the Ports Authority of T&T takes measures to provide transport from one island to the other when malfunctions occur, this is a short-term and costly solution. In February 2018 the authority spent TT$500,000 ($74,200) to fly passengers via Caribbean Airlines to Tobago when the T&T Express was out of service. Stakeholders also worry these connectivity gaps are eating into Tobago’s tourism revenue, as the main gateway to the country is on Trinidad. Speaking to local media, Demi John Cruickshank, then-chairman of the Tobago Chamber of Commerce, stated that these issues were impacting the island’s economy. The Ministry of Finance’s 2018 budget statement highlighted the issue as a priority, stating that it recognised that many development initiatives in the country could be compromised, if existing inefficiencies in the air and sea bridge were not properly addressed in a sustainable manner.
Given ongoing difficulties in the operations of the current inter-island service, the government is searching for a private entity to take over the sea bridge and water taxi services. Rohan Sinanan, minister of works and transport, told local media in March 2018, “There is now a tender going out for a new management company to handle these vessels because it has been clear to us that we do not have the capabilities of doing it.”
The government is also actively pursuing other plans to permanently address the shortcomings of the current inter-island sea bridge. In January 2018 the Ministry of Works and Transport purchased a new passenger ferry from China for a total of $17.4m. The vessel, named the Galleons Passage, will be able to accommodate 700 passengers and approximately 100 vehicles. The vessel will also run from Scarborough to the Toco Ferry Port in Tobago, once it enters into service. In July 2018 it was reported that the new ferry arrived in the country’s waters and was set to undergo inspection before beginning operations, though no new updates were available as of September 2018.
Speaking in June 2018, secretary of finance, Joel Jack, stated that the problem was one of the major socio-economic issue impacting the country, adding that discussions were under way with consultants to conduct a study on the inter-island transport system, examining policy, planning and operational issues.
The government is also inviting expressions of interest for a shipping broker to either purchase or lease a new vessel to accommodate the transport of about 200 passengers and a minimum of 120 semis. Additionally, during his visit to Australia in May 2018, Prime Minister Keith Rowley explored the possibility of acquiring two more fast ferries for Tobago. New vessels would augment the current inter-island service, minimising the challenges of the sea bridge and thus strengthening T&T’s economic prospects.
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