Public Works and Ferry Companies Can’t Reach Agreement on Operating Contract


Four weeks after Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said the government-owned St. John-St. Thomas ferries were ready to be put into operation and two weeks after Comm. Smalls said the vessels were ready for their final U.S. Coast Guard inspections, the multimillion-dollar vessels are sitting in Crown Bay.

Sitting in the shadows of the cruise ships since last fall, the sleek, gleaming vessels are caught in an apparent stand-off between the government and reluctant ferry franchisees Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services,

U.S. Coast Guard officials have confirmed the ferry companies were responsible for requesting the USCG inspections.

“Public Works has to get serious about a contract,” said Delrise Varlack of Varlack Ventures.

The ferry companies have not been able to complete a contract with the Department of Public Works to operate the government-owned vessels, Varlack said.

USCG Officials Awaiting Call
U.S. Coast Guard officials were still waiting in mid-March to schedule final inspections of the new ferries the V.I. government is providing to the two ferry franchisees serving the Red Hook, St. Thomas, to St. John route.

DPW Commissioner Smalls was quoted in published reports on Friday, March 7, that the ferries were awaiting their final USCG inspections.

USCG officials, meanwhile, said the Department of Public Works officials had not scheduled the inspections and drills when contacted by Tradewinds as late as Friday, March 14.

“We have not been scheduled for an inspection,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Ricardo Castrodad said Tuesday, March 11.

Late January Deadline Missed
In late January, Smalls told Tradewinds the ferries would be in service by the end of February.

The ferries, which were built in Louisiana and cost $3.25 million each, were paid for with federal funds.

They will be owned by the government and leased to Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures, which have share the franchise for ferry service between Red Hook and Cruz Bay.

The vessels already underwent their major inspections stateside before coming to the territory, USCG officials told Tradewinds.

The ferries underwent sea trials in late October 2013 and, after initial USCG inspections and certification in Louisiana, the vessels arrived in in the territory in November. The vessels arrived in Cruz Bay in early December and DPW hosted an official dedication ceremony, complete with champagne christening, December 6.

They must undergo New to Zone inspection under the supervision of the Captain of the Port of San Juan before commencing operation in the USVI, according to USCG officials.

“They already have received their Certificate of Operation Inspection,” Castrodad said.

“If everything is in order, inspections can be carried out pretty quickly,” the USCG spokesperson said. “When they are scheduled.”

Which Operator Gets Which Vessel?
The ferry companies had to decide which company would operate which ferry and assign crew before the vessels can undergo USCG safety and emergency certification.

“It’s not that time-consuming or lengthy an inspection,” Castrodad said.

The safety inspections will include drills to demonstrate the crews are proficient with the vessel operation and safety procedures, the USCG spokesperson added.

There was still no announcement on which company was assigned the ferry named Cruz Bay 1 and which company will be operating the ferry christened Red Hook 1.