CAL tries to pick up slack to Tobago
- Sea bridge link sinks
Friday, February 9, 2018
The cancellation of the T&T Express from the seabridge yesterday resulted in chaos and confusion at the Port of Port-of-Spain, as scores of passengers were left stranded for several hours at the height of the Carnival season.
The cancellation, the T&T Guardian was told, stemmed from the vessel not being granted a further extension of its class certification or its seaworthiness. Last year, the vessel was granted an extension of its certification, which expired this week.
This led to Caribbean Airlines (CAL) being faced with a backlog of passengers destined for Tobago on the eve of Carnival.
The T&T Spirit has been on dry dock for over six months, while the Cabo Star has been the lone cargo vessel sailing the seabridge.
Yesterday, the situation outside the port turned into frustration and anger for passengers holding confirmed tickets, as many complained they had to wait for hours in the sun and rain to be shuttled in Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) buses to Piarco.
With frustration etched on his face, 74-year-old Cyril Mc Intosh and his wife Lydia, 72, of Arima, complained that for four hours they had been standing in line with tickets in hands to board a bus. The couple was heading to Tobago for a mini vacation, but said this soured the trip. When the bus pulled up, the couple was edged out of the line by an unruly mob and had to wait for another shuttle. By then, a heavy shower came and the elderly couple, dragging their suitcases and a box, had to run for shelter.
Another disgruntled passenger, who gave her name as Nicole, vowed this was the last time she would be heading to Tobago.
"Some other country would get my money when I have to go on a vacation. The Government is losing revenue by this chaos and confusion taking place on the seabridge. I don’t feel sorry for us, because we are experiencing this for the first time, it’s Tobagonians I feel sorry for. Since 7 am we came with our confirmed tickets and it’s after 2pm and we have not boarded a bus as yet. Our country is in a total mess," said a visibly upset Nicole.
Standing next to her husband and four children in the scorching sun, Nicole voiced displeasure that there was no port police to ensure mothers with children and the elderly were given priority to go on the bus.
"Everybody pushing to get in. There was no order or numbering system. Is every man for themselves," she said.
It was only after the media arrived on the scene that police began to ensure there was an orderly system.
At Piarco, passengers were seen sitting on the floor of the crowded airport waiting on flights. One female passenger admitted she did not experience any problems with CAL, as the flights ran every hour.
In a statement on Wednesday night, the Port Authority of T&T (PATT) said the vessel was pulled to secure the safety of passengers, vehicles and crew. It advised customers who purchased confirmed tickets for the period February 8 to 14 that they will be accommodated on Caribbean Airlines flights based on the availability of seats.
Such seats, PATT said, would have been provided at no cost to the passenger, while passengers' vehicles would be accommodated on the daily sailing of the Cabo Star and all ticket holders would be shuttled via PTSC to the Piarco and ANR International Airports at no additional cost.
In response to a question by Guardian Media on whether the T&T Express did not pass its class certification, PATT chairman Allison Lewis yesterday said "the vessel (Express) has to undergo some repairs frequently due to its age and the fact that its needs to go on dry dock. We have applied for an extension and the surveyors asked for certain things to be done before they can grant an extension."
Lewis said the vessel will be inspected today and it was possible it would pass inspection.
Also contacted on the issue, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan said the ferry was an operational issue and referred the matter to the PATT.
In a press release last night, meanwhile CAL's corporate communications manager Dionne Ligoure said based on the current challenges on the seabridge, the airline will provide support for travellers and increase capacity on the airbridge between February 7-14.
Ligoure said CAL has been working with PATT "and priority will be given to passengers disrupted by the ferry cancellations," saying there was a process in place to accommodate these passengers. She said in addition to its current schedule of 20,444 seats, the airline will increase capacity by 4,720 more seats for the next seven consecutive days starting yesterday.