Ponte Ferries is still in discussions with the competent authorities in Augusta over a ferry service to the Sicilian port and no final approved permit to operate has been issued, the company said yesterday.

However, documents seen by Times of Malta have shown that a temporary permit was issued by the Augusta port authorities on August 11, which allowed Ponte Ferries to operate.

In spite of this, the operator continued with its cancellation of trips and provided clients with alternatives such as airline flights, refunds and vouchers.

Asked about the temporary permit, a company spokesperson said this related “to a possible operational solution discussed in the course of formal ongoing discussions, which, at the time, were not workable from a technical perspective”.

Ponte Ferries said it will immediately inform its clients once a formal go-ahead to operate is secured.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the company said that it was “both willing and able” to start its ferry service to Sicily as planned on August 6 but insisted it was prevented from doing so due to last-minute contestations by a competing operator on the use of berthing quays in Augusta.

Ponte Ferries said it was in possession of a valid permit from Transport Malta as well as the necessary certifications for a newly-refurbished vessel to operate from Malta. However, it failed to mention the temporary permit it had been granted by the Sicilian port authorities to operate the service.

It failed to mention the temporary permit granted by the Sicilian port authorities

Ponte Ferries is a joint venture between Magro Brothers Investments Ltd and Merill Invest Ltd, owned by entrepreneur brothers Michael and Julian Zammit Tabona, owners of the Fortina Group and Captain Morgan, and businessmen Mario Muscat and Fabio Muscat, who are the owner and CEO of OZO Group.

Documents show the temporary one-month permit issued by the Augusta port authorities was conceded following a request by Ponte Ferries for a temporary arrangement filed on August 5, on the eve of its planned maiden trip to the Sicilian port.

The new company had been selling tickets at giveaway prices since June but, on the eve of the launch, it announced that a “last-minute legal challenge” had been filed with the Sicilian authorities by “a competing operator”, which objected to its use of the Augusta port.

It later said it had been derailed by a “contestation” but then admitted there was neither a legal challenge nor a contestation but an application filed by Virtu Ferries to operate a similar service from the same port.

Meanwhile, according to a notice to mariners issued by Transport Malta last week, the project at the Marsa creek where the Ponte Ferries catamaran will be docking had hit a snag and will now be completed by the end of October.

Ponte Ferries said that the ramps at its designated berths in the Grand Harbour and Augusta had been tested and certified and were ready to accommodate trucks and cars.

It said it had opted to complete the third alleyway of its Malta ramp following its derailed plans to start operating its service.

It insisted that, in spite of all obstacles, it remained “determined and committed” to offer travellers and commuters a choice of service to Sicily.  

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