The Malta Independent 19 July 2018, Thursday

Fast-ferry service deal: Virtu Ferries says Gozo Channel ‘irresponsible’

Sunday, 15 April 2018, 18:03 Last update: about 4 months ago

Virtu Ferries Ltd this evening said that Gozo Channel was highly irresponsible to award a contract for the operation of a fast-ferry service to a company that was set up “barely a week ago” and had no experience of shipping services.

The company was reacting to the news that Islands Ferry Network Limited will be operating the for the fast ferry service between Gozo and Malta. Islands Ferry Network Limited is owned by Fortina and Magro Brothers Limited.

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In a statement, Virtu Ferries said it was invited to submit an offer to Gozo Channel to provide and operate the Fast Ferry service between Malta and Gozo. According to Gozo Channel’s document of request the successful “partner” was obliged to have “the necessary experience, expertise or resources to provide a fast ferry service” and expected “to meet the applicable specifications, requirements and criteria applicable for the fast ferry service as required by the tender”.

The tender also requires that the operator should have five years experience in ferry operation, and a minimum of Euro ten million in turnover and to provide audited financial statements for 2016, Virtu Ferries said. Thus, the successful candidate must be an existing and well-established local or foreign high speed ferry operator. The successful bidder was required to comply with strict technical, operational and financial requirements of the Public Service Concession (PSC) issued by the Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure & Capital Projects.

Virtu Ferries Ltd submitted an offer to Gozo Channel, in full compliance of both the requirements dictated by Gozo Channel, and more importantly the requirements of the main EU wide tender also as dictated by Gozo Channel’s request for a partner. Disappointingly at 7.26pm Friday 13 April, Virtu Ferries were informed by Gozo Channel that their offer was rejected, the company said.

It shortly transpired that Gozo Channel had chosen as a “partner” a new company that was set up on 10 April 2018 barely one week ago with shareholders having no prior ferry owning and certainly no experience in high speed ferry operations as specifically dictated by the Tender. Virtu ferries said "it is highly irresponsible of Gozo Channel to award a contract of this magnitude both in terms of its fundamental importance as a life line to the peripheral island of Gozo with the Maltese mainland as well as in terms of its substantial value which will be partly financed by public funds, to a new company that as yet does not even have the basic required International and Flag State certification to operate High Speed Ferries, let alone the five years experience to do so as required under the tender."

Virtu Ferries said that it is hugely regrettable that Gozo Channel will allow the operation of a 350 to 400 passenger High Speed Ferry to an operator with no prior experience at all in the shipping sector. This leads to the question as to why a seasoned Ferry operator like Gozo Channel require a partner at all if not for the required experience in high speed ferry operations, with the necessary certification and financial standing as required under the PSC and as stated in Gozo Channel’s own request for a partner, and which the successful bidders new company cannot provide.

With 30 years experience in high speed ferry ownership, operating on routes between six European countries, Virtu Ferries remain committed to High Speed passenger and vehicle transportation by sea. Ironically, Virtu Ferries have recently been given the go ahead by the Italian authorities to operate sea passenger domestic routes from La Spezia to the renowned historic sea cliff villages of Cinque Terre, in Northern Italy, has been operating routes in the Adriatic Sea to Venice for the last 15 years, and between Morocco and Spain for the last six years.

 

 

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