Commuters on the inter-island seabridge are expected to wait about two weeks before the Galleons Passage is put to service, as the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO) irons out details like a new crew to replace the one that traveled trans-ocean from China, as well as its seaworthiness certificate, mandatory for all passenger vessels.
The vessel docked at the Cruise Ship Complex, Port of Spain around 11 pm on Monday, just in time to meet the Government’s latest promised estimated time of arrival of July 16.
Yesterday, Finance Minister Imbert, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and NIDCO Chairman Herbert George led a contingent of Ministry, Port Authority of T&T officials and media personnel on a detailed tour of the vessel from its engine room to its bridge.
Nidco will be overseeing the boat’s operation, while International Maritime Services Ltd, the specialist Australian ship delivery company that brought the boat, has a one-year contract to maintain it.
Minister Sinanan said during this one-year period, a tender for a three-year maintenance contract will be advertised.
The “brand-new” boat, as the ministers emphasized, has space for 600 passengers below deck, 100 additional seats on the top deck, and space for 100 vehicles.
The journey to is expected to last 4 and 1/2 hours.
Imbert said the “most difficult challenge” now was assembling a crew, but it is “already in progress.” “We have already engaged a ship manager who brought it from China and he is the one who is now assisting in assembling a crew. He said there could be a further delay for the vessel to be put on the seabridge but “barring unforeseen circumstances” they were hoping to deal with final refurbishing issues in two to three weeks and get on the seabridge thereafter.
“Again, we never know what would happen with the Ferry Terminal (referring to the ongoing dredging works) and the Port Authority because they are the ones dealing with this…but it should be completed in two weeks and in the interim, the boat will be berthed here (Cruise Ship Complex, Port of PoS),” Imbert said.
However, the Ministers expressed that the Galleons Passage is worth the US$17.4 million paid for it and with minimal retrofitting works already completed, so far it looks like “value for money”.
Some of the minor upgrades and improvements initially identified for the vessel were a canopy over the vehicle deck, a full canopy over the sun deck, an additional female wash-room on the sun deck and re-modelling some rails in the passenger area.
However, one of the major planned modifications, covering of the sun deck which accommodates seating for 100 passengers, was not done. But Sinanan said this was intentional as they thought some passengers, especially tourists, would enjoy the “open-air experience.”
“We will send the boat out to service the seabridge as is and we will await the feedback from the passengers and if they don’t want it well then we will carry out retro-fitting works after the July/August period,” Sinanan said.
With tickets going at the same cost, passengers are expected to experience “a cruise ship-like experience” with an improved standard of service, Sinanan promised.
In the main air-conditioned cabin, which accommodates 600 passengers, some of the seats were still in plastic and there was luxury seating in the vessel’s business lounge. The wash-rooms, which include specially outfitted ones for the handicap, were squeaky clean.
Sinanan offered passengers some advice, “Respect the vessel, it would service longer.”
Just outside the main cabin on the first deck is an elevator for the handicapped.
During a tour to the vessel’s engine room, Imbert declared to the media: “Doesn’t this look new to you? It’s brand new…I do not know where all this talk came from? This could not have been so overnight? Or with magic.”
Regarding a document fixed on a part of the vessel “Date of Bill 2015,” Imbert said it represents the date when the steel was cut for its hull.
“There are stages in building the vessel. First thing you do is cut the steel for the hull and then start to fabricate the hull, then you fabricate the deck, then install the engines.”
Galleons Passage Master Valerij Rogac said there were “no problems…no issues…the vessel is in good working order and condition.”
Rogac also denied the vessel stalled off Venezuela, hence the reason for its late docking on Monday.
Pointing to the charts, he explained: “As seen on the charts it was the Equatorial Currents which are very strong and we cannot ignore because its environmental. So because it was very strong we had to decrease speed.”
The real test to Scarborough, through the Bocas, in two to three weeks time will tell.
Imbert also explained that the Galleons Passage was initially purchased for servicing the Toco Port to Scarborough Port route when the Government completes the Toco port project. Sinanan added that the estimated voyage time from there would be about 90 minutes.
Asked how soon construction will start on the Toco Port and how much it will cost, Imbert replied: “Barring unforeseen circumstances and lawsuits, because you know Trinidadians like to sue, construction should begin next year, 2019…$700 million.”
Sinanan said the Toco Port is already in its designing stages. “We are in negotiations with the EMA to have all approvals…once that is done tenders will go out. The road is in the stage of full designing and we expect to see something happening there shortly,” Sinanan said.
Imbert added that by the time the Toco Port is completed the Galleons Passage will be re-located there along with an additional vessel similar to it.