There appears to be room for another vessel at the Loredon L. Boynes Ferry Dock in Cruz Bay, but is there room for two more? The V.I. Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls has not been able to get the two franchised ferry operators to take possession of the new government-owned ferries which have been docked on St. Thomas since last fall.
Only one of the island’s two franchised passenger ferry companies showed up for V.I. Public Works Department-requested U.S. Coast Guard final inspection, safety drills and certification of the two new government-owned ferries on April 11 — and that crew didn’t try to pass a safety inspection.
“They didn’t necessarily fail the inspection,” said Lt. Cmdr. Bryson Spangler of the USCG St. Thomas. “They were just not ready.”
“They were working on the boat a little bit and they didn’t have time to practice; it can be rescheduled,” explained Lt. Cmdr. Spangler, who said the safety inspection is not time-consuming.
“They (the Transportation Services crew) admitted they weren’t ready for the drills,” Lt. Cmdr. Spangler told Tradewinds.
“They will reschedule,” the USCG official said. “We are ready whenever they are.”
“We also found they didn’t have a few of the necessary documents,” the USCG officer added.
“Everything was in order but they were missing a couple of pieces of paper.”
Varlack Ventures Doesn’t Attend
Varlack Ventures, the other franchisee for the passenger ferry service connecting Cruz Bay, St. John, and Red Hook, St. Thomas, did not send a crew for the USCG safety training certification, Lt. Cmdr. Spangler said.
“My crew went with me to the states” to see the vessels, Delrise Varlack of Varlack Ventures told Tradewinds, saying her crew members were already familiar with the vessels which have been docked in Crown Bay since their arrival in the territory last fall.
Varlack refused to comment on her company’s on-going negotiations with the government over putting the new ferries into service after telling Tradewinds in March the government needed “to get serious.”
While Transportation Services crew was not ready for its safety inspection, Varlack Ventures has three operating boats and doesn’t need a government-owned boat, Varlack told Tradewinds in January.
Transportation Services, on the other hand, has one operating vessel and a scheduled weekend service to Puerto Rico which would make that one boat unavailable for the Cruz Bay-Red Hook route, according to observers.
“TS needs the government boat,” one person familiar with the negotiations told Tradewinds. “Varlack doesn’t.”
There are also lingering rumors that the new vessels were not built with appropriate space for baggage and had an insufficient fuel capacity in addition to not being designed to operate in the swells which are predominant on the passage between Red Hook and Cruz Bay.
DPW Comm. Smalls Withholds Information
Ironically, Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls had called Tradewinds personally on Tuesday afternoon, April 8, in response to a previous request for comment, and explained that he had nothing to announce but would call back on Wednesday, April 9.
Although one of the new ferries subsequently was photographed in Cruz Bay on Wednesday, Smalls never called Tradewinds again and did not return subsequent telephone calls for comment during the scheduled Thursday crew tests or after.
USCG officials said the certification and safety inspections had been scheduled by DPW the previous week — before Comm. Smalls called Tradewinds.
Smalls had met with representatives of both ferryboat franchises in January to discuss the time line for placing the two government-owned ferryboats for the Cruz Bay to Red Hook route into service.
The discussion centered on insurance policies for the new ferries, the Management Service Agreement and the final inspection and certification requirements which must be completed prior to the maiden voyages of Red Hook I and Cruz Bay I, according to officials.
It still has not been announced which company will be operating which vessel.
Commissioner Aimed for February Start
“While the initial plan was to have these vessels in service by December 2013, obtaining the requisite insurance and securing the necessary approvals from the regulatory agencies took longer than anticipated,” DPW Comm. Smalls said in January.
“I am anticipating that once these requirements have been met, the vessels will be placed into service…within the next 30 days,” Smalls said at the meeting January 22.
At the time, Smalls added that his department and the franchised operators remained committed to ensuring the timely completion of all of the prerequisite requirements to obtain full compliance and certification that will ensure the safety of passengers and crew as well as the vessels.
Reports that Smalls recently had asked officials of the shipyard which manufactured the two vessels to take them back, were refuted by officials of the shipyard.
It could not be determined, however, whether the V.I. government had yet paid the Louisiana shipyard for the two million-dollar-plus vessels.