Tobago stakeholders are keeping their fingers crossed that the seabridge will be back in service, following confirmation from the Port Authority yesterday that the T&T Spirit will return to service on Monday.
Tobago Chamber of Commerce chairman Claude Benoit said yesterday it’s “very good news” and hopes the vessel, which has been out of service for the past ten months, will work like “a brand new vessel” and there will be no issues.
“I just hope that the maintenance stays intact so that there would be no breakdown or anything like that, but that’s very good news,” Benoit told the T&T Guardian.
He said the Tobago business community has been tabulating their losses over the past year because of numerous issues which impacted the seabridge.
“These are ongoing things, we have members who are continuously feeling the pinch every day, it’s an ongoing pain that we feeling on the island.”
But he said with an end to the seabridge problems in sight he hoped things would get better. He thanked Caribbean Airlines for the work it did in the period when the seabridge collapsed.
“CAL was the only link that was there because the Cabo Star not really taking passengers, so if we had to go to Trinidad or Tobago we had to go by air. I know CAL would have done their best to put on all the extra flights and seats to ensure those who want to travel between the islands in the circumstances were able to do that and we really have to commend them for doing their best,” Benoit said.
The return of the Spirit brings to an end the arrangement PATT had with CAL. PATT communications manager Vilma Lewis-Cockburn also yesterday thanked the travelling public for their “patience and understanding,” as the port sought to ensure a “safe and reliable service to and from Tobago.”
Over the past months, the passenger vessels have encountered a number of challenges and the two vessels were withdrawn from operations.
The T&T Spirit was taken out of service on June 6, 2017 for maintenance works. It was hoped the vessel would have returned to the seabridge before the other ferry on the seabridge, the T&T Express, was taken into dry dock. But one month ago, on March 13, the seabridge collapsed when the T&T Express was taken out of service and the T&T Spirit failed to return because its maintenance work was incomplete. After several sea trials the vessel finally got the required certification on Thursday.
The collapse of the seabridge caused not just inconvenience to passengers, but resulted in cancellations of hotel bookings in Tobago for the usual busy Easter season. In the past year, businesses say they had lost more than $700 million because of continuing problems on the seabridge.
Yesterday, Lewis-Cockburn said while the situation may have caused serious inconveniences to customers, this decision “was necessary primarily to ensure the safety of passengers and crew during the crossings, and also to enhance and upgrade the service.” She said it is expected that “with the necessary works carried out the overall performance of the vessels will be improved.”
The first sailing of the T&T Spirit is scheduled from Scarborough to Port-of-Spain on Monday at 6.30am with the return trip to Scarborough at 4 pm. A similar sailing schedule is planned for Tuesday and on Wednesday the vessel will sail at 6.30am from Scarborough and midday from Port-of-Spain.
Lewis-Cockburn said with the resumption of sailings the arrangement with CAL comes to an end tomorrow.