The Puerto Rico Maritime Transportation Authority announced the addition of the Cayo Blanco ferry, which has a capacity for 600 passengers, to the Puerto Rico/Vieques route.
Another ferry, the Coastal Explorer — owned by Puerto Rico Fast Ferries — will substitute the Schoodic Explorer as part of the new $10 million, one-year contract recently signed with the private company. The Coastal Explorer has a similar capacity of 149 passengers but is equipped with four Cummins-brand engines that make it a faster vessel, said MTA Executive Director Mara Pérez-Torres.
“The change allows greater efficiency and reliability without having a negative impact on fuel consumption. It will be offering trips to Vieques, and will start working this week,” she said.
Cayo Blanco had been out of commission for several months undergoing repairs, she said.
“Following an investment of $1.3 million, Cayo Blanco is already offering service and has a crew of a captain, a first officer, an engineer, and six sailors,” she said.
“When the Cayo Largo and Santa María passenger and cargo ferries are incorporated the MTA fleet will consist of four vessels, which in combination with those owned by Puerto Rico Fast Ferries, will result in a total fleet of seven vessels — four cargo/passengers ferries and three passenger-only vessels,” said Pérez-Torres.
The ferries currently in operation are:
- Big Cat (377 passengers, covering the Ceiba/Culebra route);
- Mr. Evan (68 passengers and light cargo serving Culebra);
- Mr. Cade (68 passengers and light cargo, serving the Ceiba/Vieques route);
- Isleño (212 passengers and heavy cargo, serving both island municipalities);
- Cayo Blanco (600 passengers, serving the Vieques route).
The MTA confirmed that the Mr. Evan and Mr. Cade will be removed from service in October, when they will be substituted by a ferry with capacity for passengers and cargo. The new vessel features a loading ramp that is 15 feet longer than what is available on the two outgoing boats.
“There are many challenges that we face every day, and we remain committed to providing maritime transport service to residents, merchants and visitors of the municipalities of Culebra and Vieques,” Pérez-Torres said, adding Gov. Wanda Vázquez has been “very emphatic in providing an adequate service to the residents of the island municipalities, and tourists who visit us, which is why these vessels have been integrated into the MTA’s service.”
While the MTA has been shuffling ships around and adding new vessels, the agency’s fleet assigned to connect Ceiba with Vieques and Culebra is still short five ferries, this media outlet confirmed.
- The Cayo Largo, which serves the Vieques route transporting 304 passengers and heavy cargo, is having an engine repaired and should be back in the rotation next week;
- The Santa María, with a capacity for 141 passengers and cargo is ready to provide service to both island municipalities. It is being repaired and is expected to start service at the end of this month;
- Isla Bonita, a 356-passenger and heavy cargo vessel, needs to be sent to a dry dock for repairs. A request for qualifications for the work has been issued and is waiting for the contract to be awarded;
- Culebra II sank in St. Thomas during Hurricane María. The MTA has been paid by the insurer and is working with the Federal Transportation Authority to buy a new ferry;
- Vieques II will be taken out of commission.
The MTA is also responsible for ferry service between San Juan and Cataño, where only one of three vessels is covering the route, according to the agency’s data.
The Covadonga, with capacity for 149 passengers is in service, although the U.S. Coast Guard is monitoring it and has extended its use for only 30 days. The Amelia ferry is out of service undergoing repairs and La Décima cannot dock in Cataño, because the pier needs modifications to accommodate the vessel, the MTA data shows.