Yesterday, Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares ordered to hire two private boats to transport passengers to Vieques and Culebra, at a time when cargo transport was not operating.
In total, yesterday the four Puerto Rico Fast Ferries (PRFF) boats, that the government hired in October for $ 15 million, were operating.
Although two of these are cargo vessels, they are only transporting passengers at the moment.
“Right now, what we have is a problem with freight, the private boats are operating,” said Juan José Díaz, spokesman for the Maritime Transport Authority (ATM, Spanish acronym).
“I want to find a solution to this problem, and the short-term solution we are seeing is how -in the private sector- we can have additional capacity to make sure that these boats can continue operating,” Rosselló Nevares told El Nuevo Día, at La Fortaleza.
By press time, neither the Governor nor the ATM director Mara Pérez Torres offered details on the costs and the negotiations carried out on this contract.
The Governor made the announcement a day after it came out that over the weekend about 200 people were stranded between the island municipalities and Ceiba because the two available ATM boats (Cayo Largo and Isla Bonita) broke down.
The Governor explained that due to the historic lack of maintenance, the ATM boats were in such poor conditions that “they were repaired and broke down again.”
According to Pérez Torres, the Rosselló Nevares administration bets on a public-private partnership –that should be defined this year- for maritime transport to Vieques and Culebra, as well as from Cataño to San Juan.
Meanwhile, almost four months ago, the government hired Puerto Rico Fast Ferries to provide four vessels (Schooldic Explorer, Big Cat, Mr. Evan and Mr. Cade) for transportation to Vieques and Culebra.
However, this decision has not stopped complaints from neighbors in Vieques and Culebra who demand an efficient quality service, with a constant and reliable itinerary.
They have also complained about the conditions of the Ceiba terminal since last October, when the Fajardo terminal was closed.
In her first interview after taking office at the ATM, Pérez Torres told El Nuevo Día that the they will not reverse the decision to close the Fajardo terminal since the Coast Guard had determined that these facilities were "inoperative."
However, José Rosario, Coast Guard Lt. Commander, refuted Pérez Torres.
“We gave them a list of the deficiencies that had to be corrected,” said Lt Commander, San Juan Coast Guard Chief of Prevention, which regulates port facilities.
Rosario explained that the last inspection to the Fajardo terminal was in 2016, before they decided to move it to Ceiba.
“We gave the ATM a list of deficiencies that had to be addressed at the facility and just after that, the ATM decided to move the facility to Ceiba. They were told that there were things that had to be addressed before they could continue operating in the terminal,” said Rosario.
He explained that the ATM had two options: correct the deficiencies or find a different option.
“For example, if I tell them, these stairs are not working, they can fix that and resolve the problem or they can change them,” he explained.
José Orlando Delgado collaborated with this article.