More ferries to join Puerto Rico/Vieques/Culebra maritime route by year’s end
The maritime connection between Puerto Rico and the island municipalities of Vieques and Culebra will see the arrival of several additional passenger and cargo vessels — expanding the fleet to nine — by year’s end, Matt Miller, president of HMS Puerto Rico, confirmed.
In an interview with News is my Business, Miller also said the company should be taking over managing the ticketing service by the same time, which could likely represent an improvement from the current scenario, which raises a steady stream of complaints on social media from both residents and visitors.
Since it began working with the Maritime Transportation Authority (MTA) — the government agency now in a public-private partnership agreement with HMS — late last year to transition the operation of the service, the first need it found was a “need for stability” in the Ceiba-Vieques-Culebra service, Miller said.
To address that, the company added two vessels to the fleet, which raised concerns about their capacity to sail the Atlantic Ocean route.
“They’re operating safely. The Coast Guard wouldn’t allow them to operate if they weren’t safe for those waters and we wouldn’t have them down here if they were unsafe,” he said.
So, by year’s end, Miller said there should be nine vessels — three for cargo and six for passengers — covering the route between the big island and its smaller island municipalities.
However, that prediction may fall short because two of those vessels are run by Puerto Rico Fast Ferries, a company that has been serving the maritime route under contract, with the most recent signed in 2018.
Company President Rick Newman said the two vessels it operates the — the Mr. Mason and the Julia Leigh — are under contract through September and it is unclear whether the MTA will extend that agreement.
Attempts to reach MTA officials for an interview were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Miller also said that HMS Ferries will likely take over the ticketing service for trips between Ceiba, Vieques and Culebra also by year’s end. The firm has already provided a ticketing system, which the MTA is running, drawing criticism from customers who often turn to social media to complain about the availability of tickets.
“We weren’t considering providing a ticketing system to the MTA until after we assumed responsibility for it,” said Miller. “We wanted to have HMS agents in place, making sure the system is being used properly. But the licenses for the ticketing system that the MTA had were expiring, so they asked us to provide the system that we were going to use much earlier.”
“The MTA is running the system, and it’s their policies regarding when tickets can be sold,” he said.