Plans for a fourth Gozo ferry to meet rising demands, especially in summer, have met problems due to differences between the Gozo and finance ministries, Times of Malta has learnt.
Maritime industry sources said Gozo Channel made arrangements to lease a Ro/Ro vessel from an international company, at least for the summer months.
The ship, with a capacity of up to 1,000 passengers and 150 vehicles, will be leased together with the crew at a cost of about €3,000 a day.
The negotiations between Gozo Channel and the international company were concluded and both the vessel and the crew were on standby to proceed to the Mġarr port, the sources said.
However, they added, the Finance Ministry had yet to give its green light as it evaluated the negative repercussions the lease could have on the company’s already strained finances.
The vessel, together with the crew, will cost about €3,000 a day to lease
Senior government officials have also expressed doubts on whether more capacity was required since the higher demand seemed to be restricted to a few hours on weekends, the sources continued.
“Gozo Channel has been ordered by Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana to find a ship as soon as possible as she was receiving many complaints, especially from constituents, about having to wait for long periods in the queue to make the crossing,” the sources said.
They pointed out that, while confirming there were long queues on some days, the senior government officials informed the Finance Ministry this only happened for a few hours, mostly on long weekends.
They warned that the leasing a fourth ship to meet such a “minor” problem was “an extravagance” Gozo Channel could not really afford, the sources said, adding that the Gozo Minister continued to insist on having an additional ferry in service as soon as possible.
Questions sent to the Gozo Ministry on Gozo Channel’s plans for a fourth ship this summer at a cost of €3,000 a day remained unanswered at the time of writing.
Gozo Channel is shortly expected to bid for a government tender for State subsidies in connection with the Malta-Gozo crossing. This time, the tender will cover a fast ferry service between Mġarr and Valletta.
Following a preliminary market consultation, Gozo Channel had chosen Virtu Ferries as its fast ferry partner. However, the evaluation committee’s decision was cancelled and the State entity made a fresh call and chose a recently-set up company, Islands Ferry Network as its new partner. The process is on hold as Virtu Ferries launched a legal challenge.
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