The Ponte Ferries catamaran was detained by the Augusta port authorities over the weekend, forcing it to cancel planned trips and leaving several passengers stranded in Sicily.

Sources said the Augusta Port Authority did not allow Ponte Ferries to conduct the return trip to Malta after it entered the Sicilian port on Friday following a months-long hiatus.

It was finally able to leave Augusta on Sunday afternoon, reaching Valletta in the evening.

It returned to Augusta on Monday morning with a handful of passengers.

According to its pre-published schedule, it had missed one return trip from Augusta and one crossing to Sicily from Malta.

Since August, Ponte had already experienced two disruptions of its brand new service.

This time the problem was with documentation related to crew certifications and employment conditions. A source said they were not in line with the Maritime Labour Convention.

The convention, which Malta ratified in 2013, ensures comprehensive worldwide protection of the rights of seafarers.

It also ensures a level playing field for countries and shipowners committed to providing decent working and living conditions for seafarers, protecting them from unfair competition from substandard ships.

A spokesperson for Ponte Ferries confirmed yesterday that there had been an issue with documentation which disrupted its scheduled trips.

“When HSC Artemis resumed its operations on Friday, it was subject to an inspection by the Italian port authorities.

“Although all documentation was in hand, they raised some issues which were immediately rectified over the weekend,” the spokesperson said.

“There was just one disrupted day and we ensured our clients could smoothly proceed with their travel plans. The vessel is now fully operational and running according to its schedule,” the spokesperson continued.

Previous problems

Ponte Ferries has encountered other problems since it launched its service in August last year, offering a rival ferry crossing to the long-established Virtu Ferries.

It had to cancel the start of its planned schedule of operations last summer due to issues with berthing permits at Augusta, to the consternation of booked passengers. 

To compensate for cancelled bookings, it offered clients alternatives such as airline flights, refunds and vouchers.

Ponte claimed at the time that it had been prevented from operating due to last-minute contestations by a competing operator on the use of berthing quays in Augusta but it turned out that not all its paperwork was in order to commence its service.

The company only started operating the ferry service in mid-November after having been granted a temporary permit from the Italian authorities.

It ground to a halt again at the beginning of this year, with the company saying it was suspending the service due to mandatory drydocking of its catamaran for routine checks.

Ponte Ferries last week announced the restart of its operations between Wine Wharf quay in Valletta and Augusta, saying it was accepting bookings for May and June and that bookings for July to September would be open at the end of May.

During May and June the ferry will be operating on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, though the itinerary will be flexible to cater for those wishing to bridge public holidays.

From July 1, the catamaran will be shuttling between the two islands on a daily basis to cater for the anticipated demand of the summer months.

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