The PNM’s curious seabridge history Part 2

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The TTWhistleblower is taking a deeper look at the crisis on the seabridge between Trinidad and Tobago.

With yet another delay in the delivery of the Galleon’s Passage, now alleged to be arriving in July 2018, one cannot help but ask what triggered the seabridge crisis in the first place.

We have researched the background and today present the second part of an analysis of who is responsible for the poor ferry service between both our islands.

You can find part one of this analysis here.
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NEW VESSELS FROM AUSTRALIA

With the Galleon’s Passage inter-island vessel still allegedly on its way to Trinidad and Tobago, one cannot help but consider the history of PNM Governments and the management of the seabridge service.

In May this year, the Prime Minister visited China and Australia and on 29 May 2018, announced he met with Australian companies INCAT and Austal to discuss the possibility of purchasing vessels.

INCAT, based in Tasmania, built the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit. These vessels previously serviced the inter-island seabridge.

Rowley said: “We are to place an order in the very near future for the first of those vessels to the company that offers the best deal.” Austal also builds military naval vessels.

Despite the talk, however, and presumably good intentions, it is in the history of the PNM’s approach to buying vessels and managing the seabridge that might make the population nervous.

OPV debacle

Many will recall the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) deal debacle entered into by the Manning Administration.

In April 2007, the former People’s National Movement (PNM) Government led by the late Patrick Manning, entered into a US$234 million agreement with the UK’s VT Group to deliver three 90m OPVs.

Ownership of the programme passed first to BVT Surface Fleet, a joint venture shipbuilding company created in mid-2008 by BAE Systems and VT Group and subsequently to BAE Systems Surface Ships when BAE Systems acquired sole ownership of the venture in September 2009.

There had been several cost and time overruns on the project and the People’s Partnership Government served notice that it would terminate the contract.

At that time, according to former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, $61 million was overdue and payable by BAE to the T&T Government.

The notice of cancellation was served on September 17 2010, and there was a 30-day notice period before it became effective. After the cancellation notice took effect, Government was entitled to a full refund of monies paid to BAE for the undelivered vessels.

When the contract was terminated, the first of the three OPVs, Port-of-Spain, was going through final work before acceptance by the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard.

The second, Scarborough, had completed sea trials with an anticipated October 2010 delivery date and work was continuing on the third, San Fernando, with sea trials scheduled for last month.

The cancellation caused an arbitration process which saw the compensatory payment of close to $1.4 billion ($1.39 billion) to the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.

OTHER SEABRIDGE SCANDALS FROM THE PAST

With another PNM Government, led by a someone who can be considered a common PNM denominator since 1986, the history of the PNM’s handling of ocean vessels can create some anxiety.

As far back as 1982, the then PNM Government commissioned the MF Panorama. The company building the ship subsequently went out of business and two other companies had to step in to complete the project.

At that time, the woefully slow and derelict MV Tobago was the only ferry service between both islands, and the MF Gelting and the MF Teisten were chartered to operate alongside.

A project that should have lasted no more than 12 months ended up taking five years, and it was in 1987 that the new National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) Government took delivery of the ferry at a cost of $114 million.

By 2004, following a series of shut-downs and engine failures, the Panorama was dry-docked in Curacao at a cost of $2.5 million. No repairs were done and the ship was left to deteriorate after being towed back to Trinidad.

The Condor 9 was contracted to fill the gap left by the Panorama and on 05 November 1994 made its first voyage to Tobago. The journey time was estimated at just over 2 ½ hours but could only transport passengers and was kept for three months.

By 2005, the then Patrick Manning-led PNM Government sold the Panorama off as ‘scrap metal’ for an undisclosed sum. The Panorama Captain, Alfred McMillan, subsequently left the PATT under questionable circumstances.

The MF Panorama was reported afterwards as operating routes in the Greek Isles and was said to be in excellent working condition.

In December 2000 the then Basdeo Panday Administration chartered the MV Beauport, which was delivered with a passenger capacity of approximately 1000 and car capacity of 150.

It was this ship that provided sea-bridge transport between Trinidad and Tobago until June 2005 when it was taken out of service.

By December 2004, The Cat was wet-leased from Bay Ferries Inc at a daily cost of US$23,800.

The MV Sonia was wet-leased at the same time from International Shipping Partners of Miami at a daily cost of US$24,000.

At that time, ICSL bid for the sea-bridge service contract offering a per-day cost of €15,000 (US$16,148) but the then PNM Administration rejected the bid.

Still in office, the PNM Government, through then Works and Transport Minister, Colm Imbert, purchased the MV Su in 2008 for $25 million.

The Su never sailed and despite its cost, the then Government had to spend some $27 million more on repairs and maintenance.

According to reports from the previous Partnership Administration Transport Minister, Devant Maharaj, as of May 31, 2012 a total of TT$55 million had been spent in the procurement, repair and berthing of the MV Su.

In November 2011, Astralship conducted an evaluation of the value of the MV Su and pegged the re-sale value on the second hand market at between TT$332,000 and TT$644,000 based on its age and condition.

Miami Connection Limited was subsequently given approval to buy the MV Su for scrap iron for $548,800, just over two percent of the original purchase price of $25 million.

By 2012, it was reported that more than $127 million was lost following the sale of water taxis that were purchased under the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration – the HC Milancia, HC Katia and the HC Olivia.

Sale documents on the water-taxi vessels showed that $133,310,513 was spent to acquire the vessels (including the MV Sonia), but only $6,038,265 being recovered from their sale – a loss of $127,272,248.

With the Galicia having been in contracted service for the two years, and the Rowley PNM knowing for over a year that it would not renew the contract, the same Captain Alfred McMillan appears to have resurfaced.

It was reported that former PATT Chairman, Christine Sahadeo, commissioned a report from Captain McMillan of Magellan Maritime Services Ltd. This company is said to have been incorporated only three months before by McMillan and his daughter.

McMillan was asked by the former chairman of the Port Authority to give his views “on the MV Galicia used by the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (PATT) for cargo handling between Trinidad and Tobago.”

The report is said to have identified six shortcomings of the vessel and recommended that it be replaced.

With questions surrounding the sudden and unexpected resignation of Sahadeo as PATT Chairman, further questions remain unanswered as to whether Magellan Maritime Limited was awarded a contract without tendering in excess of $220 million since August 2016 to manage the sea-bridge and all issues related to passenger and cargo sea transport between Trinidad and Tobago.

By 14 June 2006, the ‘Warrior Spirit’ replaced the MV Sonia with a capacity of 120 passengers, 146 trucks and 150 cars. The Warrior Spirit was primarily for cargo transport.

This contract was also awarded without tender, and with a CharterParty agreement that contained NO TERMINATION CLAUSE.

What this meant for the then PNM Government was that the contract amount would have to be paid whether the Warrior Spirit sailed, or was impounded due to engine or technical problems.

The vessel was leased from International Shipping Partners (ISP). This is the same company that leased the Sonia and the Beauport.

The Warrior Spirit cost Trinidad and Tobago US$14,000 per day.

However, the contract compelled the Trinidad and Tobago taxpayer to meet the costs of the sea-bridge service even if it was not provided, without the possibility of breaking the contract, and without compelling the service providing company to foot the cost of replacement parts or maintenance.

Despite having frustrated Public Procurement legislation as Leader of the Opposition, Rowley told a radio station that there was “public criminal conduct”, adding: “What has happened is that people have been the beneficiary of largesse that they found coming their way because of improper procurement procedures.”

Rowley did not actually say what criminal conduct there was, or why, if there was such conduct, his Government failed to act after 20 months of office.

What Rowley also did not say was that the process being used for the sea-bridge service is a “selective tendering process” which pre-selects certain firms and excludes the possibility of a local, Trinidad and Tobago firm winning the contract.

Such a tendering approach, in a time of economic downturn and struggling businesses is tantamount to slapping the business sector in the face while it is on its back.

Rowley also avoided speaking about claims of a more than $220 million contract to manage the sea-bridge given to former Panorama Captain McMillan’s Megellan Martime Limited.

Rowley’s view differed from his Works and Transport Minister, Rohan Sinanan, who said: “The Galicia’s size required a dredged port which would cost $50 million plus $20 million annually.”

The Port of Spain port has developed a natural, gradual dredging due to the high volume of sea traffic entering and leaving the port.

Sinanan further complicated the reasoning behind the termination of the Galicia by claiming that ferry has caused between US$200,000 to $300,000 in damages by berthing at the Hyatt waterfront.

ICSL offered to build light dredging and maintenance works for the Port of Port of Spain into its sea-bridge contract in the area of the turning basin and berthing jetty for $36 million annually; $14 million less than Sinanan’s claim.

This was never acknowledged by the Rowley Government.

According to reports, the daily rent of the MV Provider, discussed in Part one of this analysis, was US$14,500 (TT$97,150) while the Transporter cost between US$8,000 and $10,000 (TT$53,000 to $67,000).

This is despite ICSL’s offer of the Elizabeth Russ for passenger and cargo services at US$13,700 per day.

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