FORMER transport minister Stephen Cadiz is questioning the explanation by former Port Authority of T&T (PATT) chairman Christine Sahadeo on the now controversial inter-island cargo vessel MV Super-Fast Galicia.
In an e-mail to the Sunday Express last Monday, Cadiz said: “One of the areas that concerned me was the excuse being made that capital works to the tune of $49.0 million would have to be carried in order for the proper berthing of the Galicia.
“When the Galicia arrived in 2014, even though a full inspection as to the vessel's suitability had been carried out at its home port before being contracted, it was only then determined that the loading ramp facility at the Port of Spain dock was unsuitable for the vessel.”
Cadiz said the then-United National Congress-led People's Partnership government “went ahead and built a new ramp, the old wooden ramp had to be replaced regardless”.
He said at the same time dredging works “would have to be carried out on both the turning basin and the berthing basin to accommodate the larger Galicia.
“In addition, there were two or three semi-submerged wrecks in the area that would also have to be removed.
“All these additional works would have to have been done anyhow at some stage whether to accommodate the Galicia or any other vessel.
“It was also thought that a new channel would have been dredged to facilitate all the Tobago ferries as the existing commercial shipping channel used by the PATT is currently used by the ferry service.”
He said there were times when the ferries were delayed because of commercial traffic in one shipping area.
“We had also budgeted approximately $50 million for a major wreck removal exercise in the Gulf of Paria, some of these wrecks decades old and posed a safety and security issue for maritime traffic.
“To say that $49 million was required as a Galicia-specific cost is incorrect. This cost would have been split over a number of capital works that would have to been done in the harbour. The existing infrastructure at the ferry terminal requires a lot of work to ensure an efficient service. That is another story.”
The former minister was in high praise of the Galicia, describing the ship as performing well and having an “excellent on-time record. There is no requirement to make advanced bookings as she can in fact carry all the cargo required for Tobago.
‘$49m for dredging'
“The only complaint we ever got was that the vessel should be able to carry more passengers.”
Adding that the cost for the vessel is less than the lease on the smaller Warrior Spirit, which is three times the age of the Galicia, Cadiz said during the Patrick Manning administration “the PATT had no problem in having longer Charter Party agreements. In the maritime industry, these agreements can be for any period. Month-to-month, however, is not acceptable”.
Last week, in an interview with the Sunday Express, Sahadeo, in responding to questions posed about her hesitation to enter into a new agreement for the extension of tenure with the Galicia, said: “The board (of directors) would have communicated with the minister regarding the issues and in order to keep the Galicia.
“They required dredging which would cost $49 million, and the only way we could have continued was that the dredging be approved and that was the issue. If you had to keep the Galicia for it to be operationally efficient and do what it had to do, then the dredging would have to be incurred at a cost of $49 million and that would have been the cost to the country.”
On April 12, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, speaking on i95.5FM, hinted corruption may have taken place in the Tobago sea bridge arrangement with the Galicia.
The Prime Minister stated there was “public criminal conduct” in the handling of the contract for the Super-Fast Galicia and, as such, had referred the matter to the Attorney General to determine if anyone is was accountable and to take the necessary action.
The Prime Minister also contended the (last) Port Authority board did not properly handle the transitioning from the “unsuitable” Galicia to a more appropriate vessel for the seabridge.
Two weeks ago, notice was served by Inter-Continental Shipping, the owner of cargo vessel MV Super-Fast Galicia, to the PATT that it would be withdrawing its vessel on April 14.
Following this, emergency talks were held between Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and representative of Inter-Continental Shipping John Powell.
Sinanan also held a meeting with Tobago stakeholders.
The Galicia, a 13-year-old vessel which principally transports cargo between Trinidad and Tobago daily, has been on a month-to-month lease with the PATT. It began its inter-island ferry service on July 7, 2014.
The former People's Partnership government paid $48 million for an initial 12-month charter.