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Bo Hengy/Bahamas Ferries to add Miami to Freeport fast ferry ...
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Posted by:Jul 9th 2003, 06:26:20 pm
Fig Tree News TeamBahamas

The Nassau Guardian Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Ferry-to-Freeport idea resurfaces

SeaEscape Entertainment and Bahamas Florida Express are planning to team up for a speedy boat ride between Port Everglades and Freeport, Grand Bahama, the Miami Herald has reported.

They are negotiating over daily service that could begin in early November on a 950-passenger, 321-foot ferry that would make the daily trip in just under two hours.

The venture would be the latest attempt to run fast ferry service from South Florida. Others have failed for a variety of reasons, but promoters think this time it will work.

''Things are different, from several points of view,'' said John Waggoner, head of Hornblower Marine Services, which manages the ferries.

Among the differences:

* Since Sept. 11, people might be more interested in taking a boat than a plane.

* Fast ferries are becoming increasingly popular, especially in urban areas, as commuters seek relief from crowded highways.

* Freeport is growing and attracting more tourists.

* And, Waggoner said, with Bahamian companies as partners in the ferry service, ``we certainly understand the market better.''

According to the report, SeaEscape would provide the berth space and some shoreside services, and Bahamas Florida Express would charter the nearly new boat from a Canadian company that runs between Nova Scotia and Maine and that once tried service here.

The report further stated that the Broward County Commission authorized Port Director Ken Krauter to negotiate with SeaEscape on using Terminal 1 for the ferry. SeaEscape's gaming and entertainment ship sails twice a day from the port.

''This has the potential to be an exciting new transportation alternative to the Bahamas through Port Everglades and could attract a significant number of tourists to Broward County,'' Krauter said through a spokeswoman.

The report also stated that Juan Kuryla, the port's assistant director of intergovernmental affairs and promotions, said the Port of Miami-Dade also was talking with several companies that want to operate fast ferry service to the Bahamas, but he declined to identify the prospects.

''We've talked with Miami,'' said Gary Seabrook, chief executive of Bahamas Florida Express. ``Certainly, we intend to do business there in the long term.''

Many see the market potential.

''There are a great number of Bahamians that travel to Miami and Fort Lauderdale to shop,'' said Capt. Henry Sweeting, general manager of Bahamas Fast Ferries, which has corporate ties to Seabrook's venture and runs between the islands. ``We would be providing a much-needed service.''

The trip would take an hour and 45 minutes with the vessel cruising at 42 knots. The ferry - which would carry people and their packages but no cargo - would leave Freeport at 10 a.m. and Port Everglades at 4 p.m. The fare has not been determined. A flight from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport takes about 45 minutes and costs $240 to go one day and return the next.

Others have expressed interest in a fast ferry service or even tried it.

Among those who pulled out is Bay Ferries, the Canadian firm whose new boat could be used at Port Everglades. A different high-speed catamaran carried passengers between Miami and Nassau from January to November 1999. There were infrastructure problems, and the operation proved more of a challenge than anticipated, a company executive said.

Fred Olsen Express quit traveling between Miami and Freeport after a four-month trial in mid-2001. The company was waiting for approval to operate into Nassau and couldn't make enough profit going just to Freeport, a spokesman said.

And in 1997 Mersea Ships got $30 million in federal loan guarantees for high-speed ferries between Miami and Key West but never wrapped up financing, so the commitment was canceled, according to the U.S. Maritime

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