A new ferry route connecting Ceiba with the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra will begin operating Oct. 10, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló confirmed.
The service will be provided with four vessels leased from a private operator at a cost of $15 million for one year.
“Economic and social development is an important part of our agenda to establish a new Puerto Rico. Today we fulfill an important commitment for economic development in the eastern region of the island and social justice for residents of Vieques and Culebra,” said the governor.
The service that begins later this month from Ceiba will run parallel for two weeks with service out of Fajardo, where the ferry service is currently provided by the Maritime Transportation Authority. The government agency has nine ferries, of which only two are in operation.
To address the cash-strapped agency’s lack of full facilities, the government is looking to establish a public-private partnership to run the connection via sea between Puerto Rico and its smaller island municipalities.
On Friday, The Public-Private Partnership Authority announced that five companies have been shortlisted for the project that requires a potential investment of between $20 million and $25 million. The competitors are: Balearia Caribbean Inc.; HMS Ferries Inc.; Priority Roro Services Inc.; Puerto Rico Fast Ferries, LLC; and Seastreak, LLC.
The contract is expected to be awarded in December, with a transition to be completed by mid-2019, the government confirmed.
“The new facilities that we built in Ceiba represent the commitment of this administration to Vieques and Culebra,” said MTA Acting Director Juan Maldonado. This is just the beginning of dramatic not only the service but the quality of life and economic development potential improvements. It is a new beginning for the ATM and Roosevelt Roads to benefit the people of Puerto Rico.”
The new route between Ceiba and the islands will use the Harbor Patrol building at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Base as its new terminal. The facilities have better parking facilities available in comparison to the Fajardo ferry area, officials said.
The first ferry that will provide service is the Schoodic Explorer, which has a capacity for 149 passengers. It will run alongside the Big Cat vessel, which accommodates 377 passengers.
By Oct. 20, the Mr. Evan boat will join the fleet, with a capacity for 77 passengers and 16 vehicles. On Oct. 22 they will be joined by the Mr. Cade, with capacity for 68 passengers and 16 vehicles.