NIDCO- smooth sailing on second run

The newly constructed ramp for the Galleons Passage to offload passengers and vehicles at the Scarborough port needs “some tweaking,” and the vessel must still get the necessary certification from the Marine Services Department before it could be put in service on the sea bridge.

The vessel would accommodate just 475 passengers of a planned 700 when it sails until the sundeck gets an enclosure which is to be installed by the seller. And though designed to transport 100 cars, none would be accommodated until a canopy is installed in that area to protect them from sea spray.

Providing this information on Saturday as the Galleons Passage completed its second trial run to Tobago, Herbert George, Chairman of the National Infrastructure Development Company (NIDCO), said the ramp issue would be dealt with this week “and hopefully during that time we would be getting the necessary certificates and so from the Marine Services Department to be able to sail the vessel with passengers.”

The vessel departed the port at Port of Spain at 7:41am on Saturday, arriving in Scarborough at approximately 11:46am.

On disembarking the vessel, George, who described the trial run as a success, admitted there were some issues with the ramp.

“I’m quite comfortable… as far as the vessel everything is fine. “The ramp though, we have some tweaking to do to make it fit for all seasons; be it high tide or low tide. So we would be doing that in the next week and hopefully during that time we would be getting the necessary certificates and so from the Marine Services Department to be able to sail the vessel with passengers,” he said.

He stressed that as far as the mechanical functioning of the vessel was concerned, there were no problems as it was a smooth sailing to Tobago.

“The ramp… What happened is that where the ramp was positioned and where the vessel was aligning itself to fit on that ramp, it took a while. It was the first time, but I think we can make the ramp a bit wider as it is now, the width of the ramp (on the ground) exceeds the size of the width of the ramp on the vessel by approximately two feet, they need to give us a bit of a more leeway there.”

“We have some tweaking to do. As far as this ramp is concerned, we are going to make it wider so that the vessel can berth there much easier than it did today. Although today was a learning experience, I think we can make some adjustments and have it much easier,” he said.

George said there were plans to install a canopy in the area housing cars to prevent the sea spray from coming in contact with vehicles.

“The seller is responsible for that installation, he has had a lot of difficulties to get a vendor to do that work for him, he has gotten someone from Canada, they came and took the measurements and they have gone to fabricate the canopy to install it. They said the next three or so weeks, they would come with the material to have it installed,” he reported.

He said, however, installation of this canopy was not expected to delay the sailing of the vessel on the inter-island route.

“Once we have the issues sorted out with the Marine and Services Division; they are ultimately responsible for saying nay or yay, whether this thing sails or not because they are the authority in Trinidad and Tobago. So, once we have the all clear from them to sail, we would not allow the canopy to hold us back. We will probably sail the boat but not carry cars. As it is now, it is designed for 100 cars. The central lanes can carry vehicles such as trucks but basically, it is for cars, SUVs and things like that,” he said.

Commenting on the top deck of the vessel, George said that this area would accommodate approximately 475 passengers in the first instance, as a sun deck would not be used until an enclosure is installed.

“Initially, we were catering for just under 700 passengers but that involved having passengers on the upper deck, the sun deck. Upon commissioning of the start of the service, we would not be carrying passengers up there because that area has not been fitted out as yet. Instead of having it as an outdoor area, we are enclosing it and that enclosure has not been done. So, we would not be carrying passengers up there and such we would be limiting this to 475 passengers or thereabout,” he said.

As regards a VIP area, George said:

“You might have to pay more for the seats in this area but anybody who can pay or is willing to pay would be accommodated in this area. The price for the seat, I am not in a position to say, that would be up to the Port Authority. You would not get that from me because we are not responsible for the operations.”

George said NIDCO would continue to own and maintain the vessel, and it would be wet leased to the Port Authority.

“They would take it over and work it into the schedule and operate it. The crew here, we at NIDCO have recruited the crew, they would be sailing the vessel. We have a mixture of foreign members and local members. The idea is in short order, we would be able to replace the foreign crew through knowledge transfer.

“NIDCO has some capacity to maintain vessels, we have been doing that with the water taxis, but we recognise that this is not merely enough. So as part of the arrangement, we went out and we got an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer and another kind of a maintenance manager to come in and he would set up the structure to maintain not only this one, but all the vessels under NIDCO’s purview.

“So hopefully, we would have the maintenance done and not wish that you don’t have breakdowns because we have been doing that in the past and the wishing is not coming through at all, as we do have breakdowns when we don’t maintain,” he said.

George said the vessel does start sailing the sea bridge, Captain Romanas Puskaris of International Maritime Shipping will be in charge, while Belmont-born captain, Allister Khan, will shadow Puskaris.

“Khan will shadow for as long as it takes for him to be competent to do the work but initially, we have contracted IMS for one year. So, if after that year, we still feel a need to keep them, we shall so do,” George said.

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