The Malta Independent 13 August 2022, Saturday

Gozo fast ferry service is not financially viable, operators say

Albert Galea Monday, 27 June 2022, 18:10 Last update: about 3 months ago

Both the operators of the Malta to Gozo fast ferry have said that the service is “absolutely not financially viable” and said that government intervention will be needed for it to be feasible.

Representatives of the two operators of the fast ferry service – Virtu Ferries and GozoFast Ferry – spoke in a meeting of Parliament’s Gozo Affairs Committee on Monday, as a discussion on the service, which has been operational for a year, continued.

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Henri Saliba, speaking on behalf of Virtu Ferries, said that while his company is committed to providing the best service it can to Gozitans, the service itself is not financially feasible.

“We have tried different things for months, but it is clear that from an operator’s point of view it is absolutely not feasible.  Someone is going to need to intervene,” Saliba said.

He said that while the service itself has a good multiplier effect on Gozo and its economy, the means to create that multiplier effect is not feasible and requires government intervention in order to keep going.

Saliba said that they have already entered discussions with the government on the matter, and will be presenting audited figures as part of these talks.

A new schedule was published in recent days which changes some trip times, although it was pointed out that there remains a gap between 4:15pm and 6:15pm.

“We are trying to balance between losing money and keeping the service going,” Saliba said.

Mark Bianchi, speaking on behalf of GozoFast Ferry, didn’t have much to add with what Saliba had told the MPs because the same scenario applies to them as well.

However, he said that his company is ready to invest in the service because there is a lot of potential in it – but the issue of viability remains.

“We need to strike a balance between how many trips we do, ergo how much money we are spending, and the revenue we receive,” he said.

“We are working with the government on what the service needs.  It was a game changer, yes, but we need more people to use it,” he added.

“We want to make it five-star, but we need a five-star revenue to do that,” he said.

On his part, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri said that the government is conscious of the challenges and of the fact that the service started during the Covid-19 pandemic where there was no tourism market per se to take advantage of.

He said that the service itself doesn’t need to be economically viable, adding that the government has the duty to make sure that such a service exists so that better connectivity between Gozo and the mainland can be offered.

The discussion also saw interventions by representatives from the Gozo Tourism Authority and Transport Malta among others.

In his concluding remarks, committee chairperson and PL MP JoEtienne Abela said that there is an agreement between stakeholders and that everyone is doing what they can in order for the service to keep functioning.

The committee is chaired by PL MP JoEtienne Abela and then made up of PL MPs Clint Camilleri and Abigail Camilleri, who was deputising for Anton Refalo, and PN MPs Alex Borg and Claudette Buttigieg.

 

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