New, unused ferries in dry dock for cleaning

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ST. THOMAS - One of the territory's new multimillion-dollar ferries that was supposed to be operating between St. Thomas and St. John by November of last year is back on dry land.

V.I. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls confirmed Tuesday that the Red Hook I already had been taken out of the water and placed in the dry dock in Sub Base on St. Thomas.

The other ferry - the Cruz Bay I - will take its place when the first is completely "cleaned and prepped," according to Smalls.

"It's just part of the process," he said in answer to numerous questions about the condition of the ferries and when they would be put into service.

As to when the ferries might be put into service, Smalls would only say, "soon."

Initially, Smalls said that the vessels were being inspected and cleaned, though he later said that they were only being cleaned.

"It's really nothing," he said.

According to a statement Government House issued after Smalls spoke to The Daily News on Tuesday, the ferries are undergoing final preparation for being brought into service.

The vessels are undergoing a hull-cleaning process and the application of a coating to maintain the efficiency and the life of the running gear, according to the statement.

No faults were found with the ferries, according to Smalls.

The U.S. Coast Guard also has found nothing wrong with either ferry, according to the Coast Guard's regional spokesman Ricardo Castrodad.

The Coast Guard earlier this month completed its own inspections of the ferries, which also underwent inspections before they arrived in the territory.

The ferries arrived in the Virgin Islands in November and since then have been sitting idly at Crown Bay on St. Thomas.

When asked whether their immobility for more than half-a-year had caused any issues, Smalls did not answer.

He also did not answer questions about what specifically needed to be cleaned.

"I'm just making sure everything is in order," Smalls said.

Smalls said he expects that the ferries will be out of the water for several days each because only one can be held at the dry dock at a time.

Once they are cleaned and prepped, the ferries will be turned over to Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services, he said.

The privately owned companies run the current ferry service between Red Hook on St. Thomas and Cruz Bay on St. John.

No contract between the V.I. government and the companies has yet been signed concerning the operation of the new ferries, according to Smalls.

The two parties must sign the contract, which will require Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services to pay a fee to the V.I. government to lease the boats.

"There is no hold-up," Smalls said. "We've been going back and forth."

Public Works and the ferry companies merely have been finalizing the language, he said.

Neither Varlack Ventures General Manager Delrise Varlack nor Transportation Services General Manager Kendrick Augustus could be reached Tuesday. Varlack also declined to comment last week.

The community has long been awaiting the use of the ferries, which were funded by two separate earmarks from the U.S. Department of Transportation and cost $3.25 million each.

The ferries are 85-foot aluminum catamarans, each of which can carry more than 250 passengers. The new ferries are smaller than the currently operating ferries, though the new ones are expected to be more fuel efficient.

When the ferries initially arrived in November, Smalls said that it would be another month before they were in service.

In January, Smalls then told the public that the ferries would be in service in February.

In April, he said he was meeting with at least one of the operators, and the ferries would be in operation soon, after the contract was finalized.

On Tuesday, Smalls again said that the ferries would be in service "soon."

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email THOMAS - Almost a year ago, the V.I. government and the V.I. Public Works Department trumpeted the announcement that two new ferries had arrived in the territory and were almost ready to enhance the route between Red Hook, St. Thomas, and Cruz Bay, St. John.

The plan was for the V.I. government to own the boats, which would be operated by the current ferry franchisees Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services.

Since then, after repeated delays, the Cruz Bay I and Red Hook I - 85-foot aluminum catamarans, each capable of carrying about 250 passengers each and costing about $3.25 million - have languished, passengerless, in the water at Crown Bay Marina on St. Thomas.

- April 2013 - Gov. John deJongh Jr. signs a contract for two ferries to be built by Louisiana company Midship Marine Inc. and costing $7.6 million in federal funds. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls says the ferries will arrive by the end of the year.

- October 2013 - Stormy weather in the Gulf of Mexico from Hurricane Karen delays the sea trials necessary before the new ferries can head to the Virgin Islands. It's the last step," Smalls says at the time.

- Oct. 21-22, 2013 - Smalls and representatives from Varlack ventures and Transportation Services are in Louisiana testing the ferries' seaworthiness. "If everything goes well, we anticipate delivery to the territory within the next 30 days," Smalls says.

- Nov. 6, 2013 - Smalls takes delivery of the two ferries, when they arrive in the Virgin Islands. Smalls says he expects Coast Guard inspections to take a month and then the vessels will be turned over to the franchisees.

- January 2014 - Smalls says the boats only need final inspections and should be ready by the end of February.

- March 7, 2014 - The two boats remain out of service, still awaiting Coast Guard inspections, according to Smalls, who said the inspections were delayed by problems with insurance policies. "They're close to coming online," Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo Castrodad says. "As soon as the company schedules inspection with us, we'll be ready to go and inspect."

- April 21, 2014 - Coast Guard inspectors have begun conducting some certification exercises on one of the ferries - the Cruz Bay I. Smalls denies rumors circulating throughout the community that the franchisees are unhappy with the operating agreement. Smalls says the management contracts will be executed once the final Coast Guard inspections are complete.

- June 9, 2014 - Coast Guard inspections for Cruz Bay I are complete, while inspections of the Red Hook I are expected to begin June 11, according to Castrodad.

- June 11, 2014 - The Coast Guard completes its inspection of Red Hook I, according to Castrodad. "As for when these vessels can go into operation, I'll defer that to the Department of Public Works," he says. Smalls does not return calls to The Daily News that week.

- June 24, 2014 - Smalls says the Red Hook I was put into dry dock to be "cleaned and prepped," which will be followed by similar treatment for Cruz Bay I. He says he expects the ferries to be in service "soon."

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