The Malta Independent 17 May 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Malta-Gozo Fast Ferry - Why couldn’t we have arrived here years ago?

Saturday, 17 April 2021, 09:02 Last update: about 30 days ago

The past week or so has seen the announcement of not one, but two new fast ferry services which will run between Malta and Gozo.

Virtu Ferries announced last week that they will be running a fast-ferry service from Valletta to Mgarr, Gozo, while a second company – Gozo Fast Ferry Ltd, which is a joint venture between the Bianchi family, the Zammit Tabona family, and the Muscat family which runs OZO Group – announced an identical service only days later.

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This service, which Gozitans have been pining for for years, was only possible after the Transport Ministry opened a call for multiple shipping operators to run the service – something which came after years of legal wrangling, and three cancelled tenders.

Gozitans must be feeling a mixture of relief and bemusement at how, after years of calling for this service, now they’ve actually got a choice to pick from.

Indeed, this news has made us wonder too – it has made us wonder why it’s taken all these years to finally get to the point of providing this service, when this could all have easily been done a while ago?

Well let’s first recall the process and the controversy around this project.

The fast-ferry was one of the Labour Party’s 2013 electoral pledges.  The first attempt at getting this service done was in 2017, when a tender was issued to provide such a service in conjunction with Gozo Channel.

Virtu Ferries were recommended by the evaluation committee as the ideal candidate, and they started talks with the company before the Transport Ministry suddenly cancelled the request for proposals in January 2018 – and then issued a slightly modified call instead.

After the evaluation committee was changed, Island Ferry Network –a company between the Magro Brothers and the Zammit Tabonas – were selected to partner Gozo Channel.  A contract was signed, but Virtu Ferries challenged it and the contracts review board eventually threw it out after finding that Gozo Channel had breached public procurement rules.

A third attempt at a tender was then cancelled as well by the same public contracts board in October 2020, after Virtu Ferries again protested that the request for proposals contained a number of irregularities.

It’s a strange case this – it’s almost as if the government wanted the fast-ferry service to come to pass, but only to a particular operator.

With the liberalisation of the market now, any operator who pleases can apply for and run their own service.

So we have to wonder – why couldn’t this have been done in the first place?  What – or maybe who – was holding the government back?

Why have Gozitans had to wait for eight years since the election and four years since the first attempt for a fast-ferry started for them to finally have a ferry service they can use?

Has the market only been liberalised now because the government can see that an election is near, and doesn’t want to risk the prospect of its opponents using a failed electoral pledge against them?

While it’s satisfying – especially surely for Gozitans – to see that this service finally has come to pass, these are all very pertinent questions which should be answered.

 

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