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Only Cabo Star sailing to Tobago

Published: 
Thursday, March 29, 2018
The Cabo Star loaded with vehicles heading to Tobago In February.

At the height of one of the busiest holiday periods, the sea transport to Tobago is at its lowest, with none of the passenger ferries in operation and the lone water taxi, which was capable of making the journey, down after a fire broke out in the engine room on Tuesday night.

The Cabo Star, the cargo vessel, can only accommodate 130 passengers, who are usually truckers transporting goods and material to and from the islands.

The situation, which has gotten progressively worse over the past few months, has now put extra responsibility and strain on the national airline, Caribbean Airlines, to fill the void.

Passengers who were onboard the water taxi Trini Flash on their way to Trinidad on Tuesday when the vessel stalled in the ocean, are said to be traumatised over the incident saying that for them to jump onto a “big ship” could have cost them their lives or major injuries.Nidco confirmed a fire in the ceiling of the engine room shut down the vessel which has since been taken out of service.

The water taxi only began to service the seabridge on Tuesday to assist in taking passengers to and from Tobago for Easter long-weekend to assist inter-island travellers. There are three other functional water taxis but they are not suited to make the journey to Tobago, according to Port officials.

Nidco said water in the engine room as a result of firefighting activity was quickly pumped out and dismissed reports that the vessel was taking in water. Nidco confirmed that all 63 passengers and customer service representatives were safe.

They were rescued and bodily transferred to the Cabo Star, which was en route to Tobago.

The Cabo Star responded to the distress call sent out from the Trini Flash. The passengers were taken to two guest houses and transported to the Arthur NR Robinson International Airport and flown to Trinidad early yesterday.

Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan had described the incident as “unforeseen” and “unfortunate”.

Deputy chairman of the Tobago Forwards Kevon Mc Kenna said statements attributed to Sinanan, who also described the incident as a minor mishap, were insulting and showed that the minister did not care about the welfare of those on board.

“To add insult to injury is what I would describe as the Tobago Titanic. He is going to go and say it’s a little mishap. A little mishap? You don’t care about the Tobagonians. No, this is nonsense and we are sitting down and supposed to be quiet about this. If your mother was on that boat, would you be saying it’s a little mishap? I cannot begin to understand the panic and the fright that those persons on that boat went through and you would come and say no comforting words,” he said.

Mc Kenna said those who experienced the ordeal should be given counselling. He also called on members of the Opposition to move a motion of no confidence in the Minister of Transport.

A passenger’s nightmare

A woman, only identified as Rosh, who was on board the Trini Flash said the incident was not a “small mishap” but very traumatising. She said she was scared at the very thought of what could have happened.

She said the first passenger to be transferred had a toddler, believed to be less than two-years-old. She recounted that the child was literally thrown across for the person onboard the Cabo Star to catch.

“So it was just to jump and grab the hand of that young man who was stretching out to catch us on that side. I looked at that guy and say if he could not hold me I was going to slip and fall and be crushed between both vessels,” Rosh said.

“When I jumped I closed my eyes and ended up opening my eyes on the Cabo Star and holding on to the two ends of the door. I was standing on the edge and I had to throw myself forward. As I went up the stairs to the top of the Cabo Star I just kept telling myself that I couldn’t believe what had just happened that I had just jumped off a boat to a bigger boat and I started crying and bawling my eyes out,” she recounted.

The woman questioned when the Mayday distress call was sent out, why the T&T Coast Guard did not respond and also, why the Ministry of National Security did not dispatch a helicopter.

She said when they were brought back to Tobago at about 1.45 am there was no medical staff on standby, neither were there any counsellors to help them get through their traumatic experience.

“There were a lot of elderly people on the water taxi and it was very traumatising for them as well. I sat next to an elderly man on my way to Trinidad this morning (yesterday) and he was talking about how frightening it was. Could you have imagined the panic? Imagine if it was 300 people in that situation,” the passenger said.

“This was no little mishap, it was a major incident that occurred and people need to take responsibility. It was the dark of night and we all had to jump up to a higher vessel. I tried to sleep but I kept seeing myself there at that door going to jump,” she said.

CAL steps in with 16,000 seats

Over 16,000 inter-island travellers are expected to be accommodated in the continued collaborative effort between Caribbean Airlines (CAL) and PATT.According to CAL’s head of corporate communications, Dionne Ligoure, a total of 236 flights have been scheduled to operate the airbridge as of yesterday until Monday. Those flights are expected to accommodate 16,484 passengers.

There is also a wet lease arrangement with LIAT on the domestic airbridge. This has cost the Government US$560,000. The wet lease arrangement accommodates 544 ferry passengers return daily, on four flights, until the end of March and 680 daily up to April 30.

Port Authority representatives will be stationed at Piarco International Airport and Arthur NR Robinson International Airport, Tobago, to assist customers.

Nidco: Probe into water taxi fire

Nidco Chairman, Herbert George said the root cause analysis is still being done, however, disclosed that the fire took place around the exhaust from one of the vessel’s engine.

“The damage is minimal and in a short time the vessel should be back in operation and return to the sea for water taxi services,” George said.

Told of the rescue operation carried out and the trauma the passengers experienced, George said crew members would have worked out the way to carry out the operation as safely as possible.

“There were no incidents in the operation and I will approve it and tap them on their shoulder for doing good,” George said.

Minister of Works and Transport, Rohan Sinanan was expected to get a full report from Nidco yesterday but up to press time gave no further update.

He, however, said that there was no quick fix to the “unfortunate” situation regarding both the T&T Express and T&T Spirit off the seabridge, which he added came about as a result of poor maintenance over the years.

In an interview with CNC3 Morning Brew yesterday, Sinanan said that they plan to replace both ferries, with one—the Galleons Passage—coming in at the end of April. He said when that vessel arrives they will be seeking to purchase another ferry.

He also said that Nidco is expected to tender out for a new maintenance company for the managing and maintenance of the ferries as he is not convinced that they have the expertise here in T&T to manage the ferries.

AIRPORT BOARDING PROCEDURE

Ferry passengers must follow this process:

• Travellers with confirmed ferry tickets and no vehicles, may go directly to the airports and present their confirmed tickets for possible acceptance for travel on Caribbean Airlines
• Persons will only be placed on flights for the specific date listed on their confirmed ferry ticket
• Passengers with confirmed ferry tickets and vehicles must first check in at the Ports and after check-in will be shuttled via PTSC to the Piarco International Airport and the ANR International Airport, at no additional cost.
• If persons wish to travel on a date that is different to the date on their confirmed ferry ticket, they must purchase a new ticket on Caribbean Airlines.

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