The MV Cabo Star –
With the cargo ferry MV Cabo Star out of service until further notice, Tobago businesses are calling on the Tobago House of Assembly and the Central Government to intervene and asking the Port Authority (PATT) to make more information available on the boat’s status.
Speaking on the Tobago Updates Morning Show on Friday, president of the Tobago Division of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce Curtis Williams said Tobago is suffering.
On August 23, there was a fire onboard the MV Cabo Star after it left Scarborough.
In a statement, PATT said the fire started in the engine room but was isolated and extinguished by the crew in accordance with emergency protocols.
No injuries were reported, but passengers were stranded at sea for 17 hours.
Later that day, PATT said the vessel would be towed to Port to Spain for investigation by the insurers, certification by the Maritime Services Division and repairs to the engine.
It said, in the interim, cargo would be transported on three other vessels – the Buccoo Reef, the APT James and the Galleons Passage, and priority would be given to food and other perishables.
Williams said, “When we look at the Galleons Passage – because that is the main vessel that can carry the trucks – the amount of trucks it can carry, that really can’t help. We were coming to the point where you were going to stock up because you were coming to month-end, so we needed that extra stock, and this incident happened.”
He said the Galleons Passage could only take three-tonne trucks, and the situation is “becoming a nightmare” as just recently the chamber had learned over 15 trucks were left behind in Port of Spain because of the limited capacity of the Galleons Passage.
“It’s getting dire, and I can tell you that by the weekend, it would be worse – definitely.”
He added: “Why, in 2023, we in Tobago have to suffer like this? Why?
“These are events that have happened in the past, and nothing has been done to bring any kind of solid solution to it, and so if that vessel doesn’t sail, we suffer.
“And that’s wrong. Something has to be fundamentally wrong there.”
The chamber’s vice president Demi-John Cruickshank said, as a result, there is no cement, blocks, steel and a scarcity of food items.
“We spoke to at least two or three of the major distributors on the island. Their warehouses are empty at this point in time. So you had some rationing going on of what you can buy and how much you can buy. I spoke to people like Mr McConey with his chicken farm: we have no more feed and the chickens have actually started picking each other.”
He said if the vessel was not back in service by the weekend, “We will have a serious, serious challenge on the island, more so than what we have now.”
He said when negotiations were held for the Cabo Star, it was a two-year arrangement. The chamber agreed to an additional year for securing a new vessel, but it has now reached six years.
“That vessel is not a new vessel, it’s an old vessel, and that’s why you’re seeing all these problems. The vessel just came back from drydock two weeks ago – you went on drydock and then you had a fire, now you’re back off for an additional week – and we’re not sure because there is no confirmation from the port as to if the vessel is sailing Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
“All we know is that there is supposed to be an inspection today (Friday) and we’re hoping that the repairs to the vessel are finished.”
He said added that, the drivers who were trapped on the vessel last week are now hesitant to go back on board.
“We have drivers telling us, ‘We are not willing to go on the vessel,’ until they see it run for a couple of days.
“So even though the vessel comes out, we are getting objection and resistance from some of the drivers that, ‘Listen, we want to see that vessel working properly before we take the chance of going back on that vessel.’”
Cruickshank called on THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine to intervene.
“He should write to the Minister of Works and Transport, who is the person responsible for the Port Authority. He needs to write to the Minister of Finance, who is responsible for CAL (Caribbean Airlines) re that fiasco happening at the airport, and he needs to write the Prime Minister.
“Those are the three people who literally have the inter-island transportation at hand, so he needs to talk to those three people. Those are the three people, by law, that have some say in what is happening.”
Newsday tried several times to contact Augustine, but all calls went unanswered.
In a statement on Friday, PATT advised that repair work on the vessel is still in progress.
“The vessel is awaiting a shipment of electrical cables, which are not available locally, to replace those cables that were damaged due to the heat. These items were already sourced externally and are expected to arrive within the country in the coming week. Upon receipt of these special parts, the repairs will continue and the vessel will be recertified to resume its operations.” It added the resumption date of the vessel had not been determined.
“The management is cognisant of the essential nature of this service and will continue to schedule sailings of the Galleons Passage for cargo, during the period of the repairs, from Saturday 02- Monday 04 September.”