No word yet on whether Nidco and the Port Authority have moved closer to securing a crew for the Galleons Passage.
But Tobago stakeholders say the arrival of the vessel has done little to assuage their concerns and they cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief.
President of the Transport Division of the Tobago Chamber Diane Hadad is now proposing that in an effort to restore confidence on the seabridge Government should give consideration to “having the first couple of sailings free to build some sort of confidence back, they should give the people a gift and run the vessel free for a while.”
In an interview, Hadad said Tobago had suffered severely in the past two years and the proposal for free transport could be a way to rebuild the bridge between the two islands. Describing this as “the worst July I have seen,” Hadad said currently hotel occupancy in Tobago is “at zero.”
She said this is because Trinidadians no longer have confidence in getting to and from Tobago. She said, “The fact is that Tobagonians have decided they will only go to Trinidad if it’s absolutely necessary and Trinidadians only coming to Tobago out of necessity,” she noted
Hadad said problems which Tobago have endured in the past two years which included the closure of many businesses, hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, and threats from banks to repossess businesses will be put squarely on the table on Monday when they meet with Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan and officials of the Port Authority under the chairmanship of Lyle Alexander.
Declaring that Tobago had “suffered tremendously,” Hadad said stakeholders are adopting a “wait- and- see” approach, at least until the Galleons Passage actually begins to work on the seabridge.
She said, “We will be waiting to see the performance of the vessel and I think it is only when that happens we can start to speak a different language. We still on a wait and see. The boat has arrived and we are told it will take three weeks before it will sail to the island.”
Hadad said Tobago had hoped to capitalise on the July|August vacation period given the tough economic times and the problems in getting foreign exchange, but she said this has not happened and instead hotels and guest houses were empty.
According to Hadad, road tours conducted by the Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association revealed that “80 per cent of the people from Trinidad are not coming because the seabridge is unreliable.”
She said although the T&T Spirit returned to the seabridge it has not been operating at full capacity “because it is not working at full capacity, so it cannot carry the 800 people which it has the capacity to do.”
She challenged port officials to reveal the true number of “people they are actually moving, I would like them to say what is full capacity.”
Hadad said while the Galleons Passage has the capacity to transport 700 passengers and 100 vehicles“we still have a capacity problem and Trinidadians still have to be convinced that they will have a safe journey to Tobago and back to Trinidad, so there is a confidence problem. Confidence is something that has to be built back.”
Hadad is also hoping that Nidco is on the hunt for a cargo vessel and that there would be no need for a further extension of the Cabo Star when its extended six- month contract comes to an end in December.
She said the Cabo Star makes the trip in seven hours and business people were “back to going home very late in the night. We are taking a beating on family and social life.”