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Caribbean ferry service a benefit, says Gonsalves

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Caribbean ferry service a benefit, says Gonsalves

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A CARIBBEAN FERRY service would be beneficial not only to inter-island travel but also to LIAT, said Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Speaking after the recent signing of a loan agreement between LIAT shareholder governments and the Caribbean Development Bank, Gonsalves said the ferry service would increase the number of people travelling, thereby creating a spill over to the airline.
“You have a number of people who don’t like to travel but once they use the ferry and get into the appetite for travelling, they will not only travel only by ferry, from time to time they will also take a plane. The ferry would create its own demand by tapping into those who don’t like to travel,” he said.
However, Gonsalves said the unwillingness of the private sector to invest was keeping the ferry service from becoming a reality. He said the public sector was willing, especially in his country, but it seemed no private entity was willing to take a risk.
“The problem with the ferry service is simple: the private sector, which is supposed to be engaging in the service, is not coming forward. Governments can’t fund a ferry service; it’s a private sector activity. What the governments can do, and what we in St Vincent and the Grenadines have done, is if you register a ferry, you pay zero import duty on it,” he said.
Gonsalves said there were currently small-scale private ferry services operating from St Vincent tax-free and this had to be replicated on a larger scale.
“There are ferry services between the islands of the Grenadines and those which go between St Vincent and Barbados and St Vincent and Trinidad. They pay zero duty tax and I exempt them from paying taxes for both passengers and cargo. I can’t do any better than that short of buying it myself,” he said.
Gonsalves said a ferry service would be a viable business opportunity but even with the offer of tax exemption in St Vincent, there were still high costs involved.
“We would have to have the port facilities configured, plus running a ferry service costs a lot of money,” he said. (CA)