Malta-Sicily ferry operator Ponte Ferries on Wednesday announced that it will be pausing operations during the winter months.

The company's Valletta to Augusta route will stop operating at the end of September, it said in an announcement. It did not say when trips would resume.  

Ponte did not explain its sudden decision to stop winter trips, although the announcement comes following reports of delays and cancellations of various of its trips between the two islands. 

The company had been plagued by delays in recent weeks, with one journey on September 21 being cancelled after passengers had already boarded the vessel. 

“We had to check in by 3.30 am to depart at 5 am, and shortly after they announced that the trip would be delayed,” one irate passenger said on social media.

“An hour passed by and at 6:05 am they told us that the trip was cancelled!”

Last week, clients who were attempting to book journeys with the operator reported that they were unable to plan trips in October, while on Wednesday morning several clients took to Facebook to complain that they were unable to contact the company on the phone. 

Times of Malta was also unable to reach Ponte Ferries by phone on Wednesday afternoon, despite an automated message stating that the company’s office hours were between 8.30 am and 5.30 pm. 

In the brief statement, Ponte said that it had carried more than 32,000 passengers and 6,000 vehicles during the time it spent operating the route. 

“We are proud to have successfully achieved this milestone,” a company spokesperson said. “People have responded positively to the introduction of competition between Malta and Sicily.

"We would like to wholeheartedly thank all those who used our services, also those travellers whose travelling plans were somehow changed due to the isolated operational stop we had last week. We are proud that our team has intervened and provided immediate alternatives to those affected.”

The company has faced something of an uphill battle in getting the Valletta to Augusta route off the ground, beleaguered by false starts and legal challenges for its right to operate the route. 

Scheduled to start ferrying in August of last year, Ponte had to cancel its planned journeys at the last minute after encountering issues with berthing permits in Augusta. The service eventually started running in November

In May, Ponte’s catamaran HSC Artemis was detained by Augusta port authorities, stranding a number of passengers in Sicily for two days. 

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