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|New Florida-to-Nassau Catamaran Service In 2004|
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|Posted by:||Dec 31st 2003, 06:21:09 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||December 31, 2003
New Nassau-Florida 'Cat' Service Coming
After being abruptly suspended in 1999, and despite reservations by at least one Bay Street merchant, a bi-weekly catamaran service between Nassau and Florida is expected to be relaunched in early 2004.
The "sophisticated" twin-hulled, hydrofoil-powered vessel, at over 300 feet in length, can accommodate up to 900 passengers, 250 vehicles, and travel at speeds up to 55 miles per hour.
Chief Marketing Officer of Bahamas Ferries - that operates the service through its sister company, Bahamas-Florida Express, Khaalis Rolle, said Monday that services between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport, Grand Bahama started on November 1, but not extended to Nassau as there was no berthing facility in place at the time.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Mr. Rolle said that, "Logistically, the facilities were not in place to accommodate a vessel of that size and the amount of Bahamians and their goods that we anticipated transporting."
However, he said, regular services between Nassau and Port Everglades, with operational costs estimated at $60,000 a day, should commence either at the end of January or the first week of February 2004.
A round trip fare of $150, not including taxes, is presently being considered, with the voyage taking four-and-a-half hours.
A "temporary service" into Nassau from Grand Bahama, is expected to start on New Year's Day, according to Mr Rolle.
Dock improvements needed
Mr Rolle said that the vessel will use the same
Prince George Wharf facilities previously used by the discontinued service to clear passengers, although some improvements were needed, as the area was presently not up to par. "We are presently discussing with the government what needs to take place for this to happen," he said.
Due to the diversity of goods that can be transported, he added, restrictions would be placed on items that could be carried. With regard to a formal policy being announced, he said, "The hold up on this right now is determining how our facilities will accommodate what we can bring."
When asked to comment on the re-introduction of the service, local businessman Norman Solomon, who operates a variety of Bay Street businesses, said that, in his opinion, the 1999 operation was not effectively organized, with many goods being brought in without benefit of Customs clearance.
He said: "I think the feeling was that goods were being off-loaded and taken away, and that would be it. I may be wrong about this, and I think the authorities felt that a lot of merchandise was coming in without being cleared, and I believe this is why they kind of clamped down and stopped it.
"If this is the case," he said, "then obviously it is nothing that you would want to see re-introduced."
According to Mr Solomon, his businesses were only "marginally" affected by the service, but was concerned that "legitimate businesses" paid their import duties and stamp taxes, while some using the catamaran did not.
"They did not have to, did not need to, and got away with not doing it; and I guess they did it over and over again by buying not only for themselvespersonally, but for their businesses," he charged.
"This of course created a problem," he continued, "but if it is going to be re-introduced, I gather that authorities must have solved the problem."
According to Mr Solomon, he did not intend to use the service, and as to possible competition from those who did, he said, "I am not terribly concerned. I am more concerned about me paying import duty and tax, and I would like everybody else to do the same, and the only way I can agree to introducing it would be to take care of that problem."
'Sound' clearance procedures
When asked about possible concerns among Bay Street merchants about possible detrimental effects on their businesses, Mr. Rolle said that, to the contrary, the Cat could "enhance" their operations, providing them with the opportunity to use the service to import their own goods.
"I don't see the Cat being a major competitor to local businesses, but our goal is not to compete with local businesses; our goal is to enhance the service and the quality of goods that local businesses provide," he said.
"We are in a totally different transportation business from the other service providers and I don't see where this is going to impact the local merchant community."
The system that the company plans to put in place to clear goods is very "sound", Mr Rolle said and a noticeable improvement over previous operations. He said that discussions have already been held with Customs Comptroller John Rolle.
The proposed operation has also received the full support of officials of the Ministries of Transport and Tourism, he said.
Mr Rolle said that one of the challenges faced by the operators using the Freeport facility was related to space, but "progress" was being made on a daily basis. A large vessel such as the Cat needed a lot of in order to operate efficiently and comfortably, he said.
"This has been one of our biggest constraints right now," he said, and could pose a problem once the Cat arrives in Nassau. "Certainly this is one of the reasons why we are taking so long because we are going through the logistical process to make the service comfortable for our customers," he noted.
Mr Rolle said that the 98-meter vessel was built by INCAT, an Australian company, is very "sophisticated" and based on one of the best design concepts in the hemisphere.
By Tamara McKenzie, The Nassau Guardian
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