Fast ferry improved, not ignored, government insists

The government is standing by its decision to revise its original plans for a fast ferry service linking Gozo to Valletta, insisting that rather than discard its pledge for such a service, it was pushing for a more extensive one.

Instead of a fast ferry service which employs catamarans and which would link Gozo directly to the Maltese capital, the government is opting for a ferry network linking Gozo to five ports – Marsaxlokk, Ta’ Xbiex, St Paul’s Bay, St Julians and Valletta – in which the type of ferries to be used is not specified. In comments made to last month, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri insisted that this was not an issue, since “nowadays, all ferries are fast.”

But such reasoning has failed to assuage the concerns of the Gozo Business Chamber, which said that a conventional ferry service would not suffice, and 11 NGOs which earlier this month called upon the government to review its decision.

The Nationalist Party, meanwhile, argued that the change of plans raised suspicions that the process was less than transparent.

In a statement issued by the Transport Ministry and the Gozo Ministry, however, the government is sticking to its guns, emphasising that the call was for ferry services that can support fast operating speeds.

It said that the only change in policy was to issue a commercial call, instead of one integrated with the public service obligations operated by Gozo Channel.

It noted that Transport Malta was allowing bidders the freedom to develop the routes connecting the six ports – and any others they see fit – themselves, stating that ferry trips could either be direct or include stops.

It added that a cost-benefit analysis carried out by E-Cubed Consultants vindicated the government’s decision to give the market an opportunity to submit bids instead of integrating it with public service obligations: the latter option, it added, would have seen the government subsidise the service.

The same study, it added, showed that a sizeable proportion of people were willing to use the ferry instead of private vehicles.