People’s Democratic Patriots deputy leader Farley Augustine

One of the two new fast ferries being built for the interisland sea bridge has been commissioned.

The vessel called the Buccoo Reef was floated on the Derwent River at Hobert Australia on Monday.

Australian shipbuilders Incat Tasmania began construction of the vessel in 2019.

Thus far all the major machinery and equipment have already been installed, and according to reports the ship’s electronic systems are being tested in preparation for sea trials in November.

The news received a favourable response from many persons including President of the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association Chris James and Representative for Area Representative Parlatuvier/L’ Anse Fourmi/Speyside, Speyside, Farley Augustine

“We were the ones to do the swim protest and daringly jump in the water and create a lot of attention surrounding the issue of the inter-island transportation between Trinidad and Tobago.”

The “swim” Augustine referred to is a 30 kilometre traverse made by PDP political leader Watson Duke, and his team who made their way from Scarborough Tobago to Toco Trinidad by swimming, canoe and boat to protest the state of the interisland ferry service.

Since 2017 the inter-island sea bridge has been plagued with many challenges with both the passenger and cargo vessels.

In May 2017 the Superfast Galacia pulled its services from the route. At one point the route serviced by a barge before being replaced by another leased vessel the MV Cabo Star.

In terms of passengers service, the route was being serviced by the T&T Spirit and the T&T Express which were interchangeably pulled from the route at various intervals due to poor maintenance issues. In June 2019, the government leased a Maltese vessel; the Jean de La Vallette to service the route during the constructions of two custom-built vessels, the Buccoo Reef and the APT James.

Augustine said he is happy that their many protests and advocacies have actually resulted in Tobago getting a proper and functioning interisland ferry service.

Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis said the new ferries would redound to the benefit of many sectors including the Tourism and Agricultural sector.

“Our domestic tourism is heavily dependent on a predictable sea bridge and the addition of the Buccoo Reef and the APT James would definitely assist with the post COVID-19 rebuilding process while we work on regaining some traction in the international tourism market.”

A reliable inter-island ferry service for Tobago would also be in high demand in the near future Dennis said as the island’s farmers are progressively moving to increase production with the intention to “feed the entire country.”

The Chief Secretary said the THA would, however, move to gain more management of the service.

“The management and care of the ferry is a critical issue so that we do not end up in a situation such as the one in 2017 where the sea bridge was almost totally collapsed. I will be reaching out to the Prime Minister to clamour for Tobago to have greater involvement in the management and maintenance of the ferry.”

The Buccoo Reef will have a capacity for 1,000 passengers, the vessel has three lounges, including bars and food service areas while the vehicle deck will have the capacity for over 200 vehicles. The completion date for the vessel was originally scheduled for October, however, due to COVID-19 the delivery date was pushed back.

Several calls and messages to the Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan and Chairman of NIDCO Herbert George for the new date of completion went unanswered.