V.I.'s 2 new ferries finally in service

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ST. THOMAS - The territory's two new ferryboats, Cruz Bay I and Red Hook I, went into service during the holiday weekend, six months after the vessels were delivered to the islands.

"They are in service," Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls said Monday.

The two ferries are owned by the government and operated by the government's franchisees, Transportation Services and Varlack Ventures. While it took several months to hammer out an agreement, both franchisees have signed a management contract with the government for use of the boats.

Smalls said the agreement includes a token amount of money the operators will pay for the use of the boats, and in exchange, the operators are expected to take the money they make running the ferries and use it to maintain the vessels.

The ferryboats began service Thursday, and feedback has been great so far, according to Smalls.

"I've received nothing but positive words and encouragement," he said. "The reviews that I've had have been positive, both from the public and the franchise operators themselves."

The two ferries are 84-foot aluminum catamarans, each of which can carry about 204 passengers.

While some people have criticized the size of the boats, saying they are too small and there is not enough room for luggage, Smalls said the boats are meant to supplement the existing fleet, not replace the larger boats already in service.

The boats were built in Louisiana and received their U.S. Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection prior to arriving on St. Thomas. However, before operating in the territory, they had to pass a "new to zone" inspection. Those inspections were completed last month.

In addition to the final Coast Guard inspections, the boats were taken out of the water two weeks ago for a final cleaning and inspection before being put into service.

The last step was the management contract, which is now in place, Smalls said.

Funded with $7.6 million in federal funds, the vessels were built by the Louisiana-based company Midship Marine Inc.

The funding for the boats - $3.25 million for each - comes from a number of federal sources. Two different earmarks from the U.S. Transportation Department coupled with a $3 million federal stimulus grant provided the money to purchase the boats.

Smalls said he hopes the ferries are enjoyed by the public, and urged people to take care of them.

"This is a gift to the people of the Virgin Islands, and I ask that we continue to take care of them," he said. "These are state-of-the-art vessels, and we want to see them in service for many years to come."

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

The history of Cruz Bay I and Red Hook I - 85-foot aluminum catamarans, each capable of carrying more than 200 passengers each and costing about $3.25 million - which the territory bought to enhance service on the Red Hook-to-Cruz Bay ferry route:

- 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.

- Oct. 21-22, 2013 - Smalls and representatives from Varlack Ventures and Transportation Services are in Louisiana testing the ferries' seaworthiness.

- 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.

- 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 Coast Guard spokesman Ricardo 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."

July 3, 2014 - The ferries are put into service the day before the St. John Festival parades in Cruz Bay.

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