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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senator investigates the performance of HMS Ferries in Vieques and Culebra

By The Star Staff

Senate Strategic Projects and Energy Committee Chairman Javier Aponte Dalmau recently investigated the performance of HMS Ferries in the operation of the ferries in Vieques and Culebra, which he alleged cost $7 million to the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP).

According to DTOP Secretary Eileen Vélez Vega, the contract is in the first phase. HMS Ferries has been operating the system since December 15, 2021. In addition, she maintained that the movement of passengers is returning to previous levels in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

“During the first two months of this year, 187,736 passengers used the island service compared to 123,856 for this same period in 2022 and 71,287 for 2021,” reads the DTOP presentation.

The secretary stressed that the fleet’s repair is wider than the five vessels contemplated in the contract since acquiring new ferries for the maritime transport service to the municipal islands owned by the Government of Puerto Rico is imperative.

“For these purposes, through a request for proposals, we carried out the process of acquiring four new passenger and cargo vessels. Therefore, during April, it is estimated that we will finalize the contract,” added Vélez Vega.

The committee’s chairman asked if the contract exposes deadlines imposed by the government to serve the vessels and the fulfillment of the contract’s first phase. The secretary commented that, since her arrival, they have worked so that the boats receive adequate maintenance and repair to ensure their operation.

“Here is a contract made on the run, one month before an electoral process, with a company that has a clause that says that they can lease boats because the Government of Puerto Rico did not plan correctly. So, therefore, it cannot be the discretion of the private operator not to use our boats for them to use their boats”, added Aponte Dalmau.

The executive director of the Integrated Transportation Authority (ATI), Josué Menéndez Agosto, said that “the rental of additional vessels is to expand the fleet,” since there are vessels that have been used for years.

Regarding the changes in the travel itineraries, Menéndez Agosto clarified that they vary according to the needs that the mayors expose. In addition, the DTOP secretary added that they have constant meetings with the mayors to learn about the needs of the residents of the municipal islands.

On the other hand, Aponte Dalmau commented that return tickets to the municipal islands are not sold to residents unless they are physically in the terminal. The executive director of ATI denied that, but Aponte Dalmau stressed that citizens bring him complaints on this matter. In addition, he added that priority should be given to the inhabitants of Vieques and Culebra and not to tourists.

The DTOP secretary clarified that they are selling the trips, but if the person does not appear, the ticket cannot be resold.

“I am opposed to this contract because I believe that the government officials are competent people, and they know the problem. I don’t understand why we must pay a private company when we have personnel who could do this job,” said Senator Rafael Bernabe Riefkohl.

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