Major US operator to take over island ferry service under P3 pact
By John McPhaul
The Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation Authority (ATM by its Spanish initials) and HMS Ferries Inc., part of the Hornblower family of businesses, on Monday announced the transition process for the operation and maintenance of the island’s maritime transportation systems.
The ATM system includes ferry service between Cataño and San Juan, and between Ceiba, Vieques and Culebra.
“We are very happy to begin this partnership with Puerto Rico through the Maritime Transportation Authority,” said Kevin Rabbitt, chief executive officer of the Hornblower Group, in a written statement. “We are firmly committed to providing quality service to the thousands of people who use Puerto Rico’s ferry service annually.”
“HMS Ferries has unrivaled shipping experience and is the largest passenger ship operator in the United States,” Rabbitt added. “We have put a lot of effort and dedication into this alliance, since our main objective is to provide a world-class service that will be the jewel of the Caribbean.”
Public-Private Partnerships Authority Executive Director Fermín Fontanés emphasized that “[t]his public-private partnership agreement is the appropriate mechanism for the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, as well as Cataño, to have an efficient, reliable and consistent maritime transport service.”
“We are convinced that the selection of HMS Ferries will mark the way to improve this service, under the highest standards, in accordance with successful models in other jurisdictions,” Fontanés said.
HMS Ferries developed a plan aimed at standardizing and executing substantial improvements to maritime transportation between Ceiba and the islands of Vieques and Culebra. The transition period for operations could take up to three years, but HMS Ferries is committed to implementing a comprehensive and aggressive work plan that could well be completed sooner than stipulated, the Hornblower Group said in its statement.
The plan will identify the priorities that will allow HMS Ferries and the ATM to achieve quality service based on the highest standards.
“As part of our commitment, we will be initiating a series of community dialogues with the residents of the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, as well as with their mayors and the top municipal executives of Ceiba, Cataño and San Juan,” said Matt Miller, president of HMS Ferries. “This will have the purpose of having a clearer idea of their needs and receive the contribution of solutions to the problems that plagued the maritime transport system for years.”
HMS Ferries and its affiliates operate and maintain a wide variety of vessels in various locations, including operations in New York City.
In 2019, HMS Ferries operated a fleet of 16 vessels and transported more than three million people and one million vehicles. The Hornblower company has a fleet of almost 200 of its own vessels that have offered services to more than 30 million passengers and more than 80,000 trips.
“We have a qualified staff, experts in maritime issues who will evaluate the immediate needs to achieve the maintenance, operation and improvement plans for the fleet of vessels used on the routes between Ceiba and the islands of Vieques and Culebra, as well as on the San Juan-Cataño route,” said José Jiménez, deputy director of operations for HMS Ferries. “Our experience, in turn, will give us the opportunity to retrain the people who work directly with the vessels to quickly achieve their conditioning and operation.”
Jiménez added that an important element of the transition plan will be the launch of a new ticket and reservation system that will complement HMS’s work on the island. HMS Ferries is aware of user dissatisfaction with the existing ticket system. One of its priorities will be to implement in Puerto Rico its own ticket and box office reservation system, which will adjust to the needs of users without sacrificing quality and service.
The Hornblower Group is a world leader in shipping with offices in San Francisco, Chicago, New York and London. Its portfolio reflects nearly 100 years of experience and innovation in the maritime sector, which over time has redefined the marine hospitality industry, establishing a portfolio of award-winning brands in various categories including Hornblower Cruises & Events in the Tourism category; Dinners, American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruises Line in the Nights category; and NYC Ferry, HMS Ferries and Seaward Marine Services in the Transportation category. Hornblower also operates services in association with the U.S. National Park Service.