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2004-01-31 01:02:01

Cat Service Stalled

Plans to re-launch a Catamaran service between Nassau and a Florida port has been postponed, but not indefinitely.

While Bahamas Florida Express announced its intention to introduce the Cat vessel as early as next week, the company awaits "formal" approval from the government.

Chief Marketing Officer of Bahamas Ferries, Khaalis Rolle, told The Guardian Thursday his company is in "constant dialogue" with the ministry of transport, in an effort to have the service launched.

Bahamas Ferries was granted approval by the National Economic Council in December 2002, but this approval was subject to certain conditions.

Minister of Transport and Aviation, Glenys Hanna-Martin, confirmed earlier this week that the government has not yet approved any Cat service from Nassau to Florida. She told The Guardian several applications from other companies wanting to operate a Nassau/Florida ferry route have been submitted, but the main challenge lies in obtaining berthing space before any approval is granted.

"It is something that has to be addressed, but no determination has been made with any of the applications that have been presented, but there are a number of interested parties," she said. However, she declined to name the other applicants.

Mr. Rolle said he is not concerned about competition, as Bahamas Ferries have proven to be "successful" operators. He said the company would work along with anyone who may want to enter the ferry business and said his company is not asking for the "exclusive" right to operate.

"We want to be one of the participants in this business, but I would be concerned if we were not considered on a fair basis," Mr. Rolle said.

"Certainly, we want as many participants in this business as possible, as it is good service for Bahamians.

"Additionally, we are willing to make an investment in the facility at Prince George Wharf at no expense to the government and we are also willing to lease this space on an annual basis from the government, which would be a significant source of revenue," he said. The old Customs Building, used by the former Cat operator is being considered.

Overall, Mr. Rolle said he understands the government wanting to take its time before a decision is made, as the move requires in-depth thought and analysis.

"I think the government is being prudent in making a decision, but we will continue to discuss the matter to hopefully reach an arrangement and begin delivering a service that Bahamians are waiting on," he said.

He said the company intends to plan a town meeting sometime next month to inform the Bahamian people about the service being offered by Bahamas Florida Express. He touted the company as one with very "transparent and sound" operations, that has forged a close relationship with the community.

If granted approval from the Ministry of Transport, the Cat is expected to launch voyages between Nassau and Port Everglades. The service would be operated by Bahamas Florida Express, a sister company of Bahamas Ferries.

The Cat is a 98-meter vessel that can accommodate up to 900 passengers. It also has a vehicle deck that can accommodate 250 vehicles and travels at a speed of 55 miles per hour. The vessel was built in Australia by a company known as INCAT and presently services Freeport, Grand Bahama.

Tamara McKenzie, The Nassau Guardian 

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