Ferry service between Puerto Rico and its island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra could be significantly cut back starting in January, because the government has apparently decided not to renew its contract with private operator Puerto Rico Fast Ferries, this media outlet learned Wednesday.
The Maritime Shipping Authority had until Dec. 10 to renew its contract, and has been granted an extension through Friday, Rick Newman, managing partner of Puerto Rico Fast Ferries confirmed.
“So far, they have told us they’re not going to renew the contract because they have not identified the funds to guarantee payment,” Newman said, noting that the government would need to secure about $2 million for three months of transportation.
This means that service at the already difficult port of Fajardo — where lines to buy tickets are usually dozens deep and it is not unusual to see stranded passengers, including tourists — will be even tougher to navigate with fewer ferries available.
The MSA hired Puerto Rico Fast Ferries in March 2012 to provide additional routes between the Fajardo maritime terminal and Vieques and Culebra. Initially, the private operator ran three ferries, which subsequently were reduced by one after the contract was not renewed earlier this year.
The two ferries still assigned to the routes will provide service until Jan. 7, at which point about 30 people will lose their jobs, Newman said.
Since the start of the service, the ferry assigned to Vieques has transported about 130,000 passengers and 26,500 vehicles. The Culebra ferry, which only carries people, has transported about 500,000 passengers over the past 20 months, Newman confirmed.
Once Puerto Rico Fast Ferries pulls out, the government will have to continue offering maritime transportation between Puerto Rico and the island municipalities, as well as absorb the volume the private operator had been handling, Newman explained.
“The government has 11 ferries available, but the majority are not operating. So now, they will have to continue transporting passengers and cargo, plus absorb the volume that we had been serving,” Newman said.
Attempts to reach MSA Executive Director José Ruiz for a reaction and further details were unsuccessful Wednesday.