Updated 5.05pm

A new sea ferry between Malta and Sicily is one step closer to operation after concluding a successful test run.

The Ragusa Xpress ferry will begin daily trips between Malta and Ragusa as of late spring, Sicilian news portal Ragusa Oggi reported. 

Sources close to the company told Times of Malta that the Ragusa Xpress must now wait for the necessary permits to be issued before it can begin operating.

That could happen as early as March or April, sources said, though it could take until later in the spring. 

Speculation about a new sea connection between Malta and its neighbouring Italian island began in November 2022, when a ferry painted white and branded with the yellow Ragusa Xpress logo was spotted in a Marsa shipyard.

The company is owned by Paul Gauci, the local entrepreneur whose PG Group controls the Pavi and Pama supermarkets and local branch of Spanish retailer Zara, among others. 

In January 2023, Gauci acquired Marina di Ragusa, one of Sicily's largest marinas, in an undisclosed multi-million deal. 

Ragusa Oggi reported that the Ragusa Xpress, officially named San Giorgio, ran a test trip on Wednesday. 

Ragusa's port authorities oversaw how the catamaran would approach the harbour and its berthing procedures, Ragusa Oggi reported. A company spokesperson confirmed that the tests were successful. 

The Ragusa Xpress ferry is an older vessel that used to be operated by the company it will be competing with, Virtu Ferries. 

Virtu had used the ship to evacuate people from Libya in 2011 and again in 2015 but then sold it to a German company, which used it to operate charter trips in the Caribbean. It has now returned home to the Mediterranean after being acquired by Gauci to operate the new ferry service. 

The San Giorgio can carry a maximum of 430 passengers and 21 cars and will take one hour and 45 minutes to cross between the Grand Harbour and Marina di Ragusa. 

By contrast, Virtu Ferries uses larger vessels that can carry twice as many passengers, more cars and commercial vehicles of up 19 metres in length. 

Ragusa's deputy mayor told the news outlet that the new ferry service will help the town cut its reliance on peak summer tourist months. 

"It is another gateway that will bring development and growth in a period of crisis," he said.

Times of Malta has contacted Gauci for comment.

The Ragusa Xpress will vie for passenger seats with Virtu Ferries' long-standing ferry operation, which runs two trips a day between Malta and Pozzallo, in southern Sicily. 

Another contender for a slice of the Malta-Sicily ferry market, Ponte Ferries, proved to be short-lived. The company started operating in late 2021 but called it quits last year, following multiple problems. 

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