Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri has dismissed the need for economic viability in the liberalised Gozo fast ferry service between Valletta and Mgarr Harbour in Gozo, saying the Government “has a duty” to make sure such a service exists.
The comments, made during a meeting of Parliament’s Gozo Affairs Committee on Monday, seemingly point towards the public subsidisation of the service provided by two private operators, Virtu Ferries and Gozo Fast Ferry.
The Minister was speaking after interventions by representatives of the two operators, who agreed that the service is “absolutely not financially viable”. The companies said that only Government intervention would be able to make it feasible.
The service was launched just over a year ago. Since then, it has often come in for criticism for frequent changes to the schedule, inconvenient departure times, and unannounced cancellations, leading the Gozo Business Chamber to warn that trust in the service was being undermined.
“We have tried different things for months, but it is clear that from an operator’s point of view it is absolutely not feasible,” said Henri Saliba, speaking for Virtu. “Someone is going to need to intervene.”
He said the company is committed to providing the best service it can to Gozitans, and noted its positive multiplier effect on the island’s economy.
Mr Saliba said that the operators have already entered discussions with Government, and will be presenting audited figures as part of these talks.
“We are trying to balance between losing money and keeping the service going,” he said.
Mark Bianchi, speaking on behalf of GozoFast Ferry, added: “We want to make it five-star, but we need a five-star revenue to do that.”
Minister Camilleri acknowledged the challenges faced by the operators, and said the Government has the duty to make sure that such a service exists in order to improve connectivity between Gozo and the mainland.
Virtu Fast Ferry is a wholly owned subsidiary of Virtu Holdings, the company operating the Valletta-Pozzallo, Sicily catamaran. It is owned by John and Francis Portelli.
Gozo Fast Ferry is a joint venture between Bianchi Group and Merill Investments, which is owned by entrepreneur brothers Michael and Julian Zammit Tabona, and businessmen Mario and Fabio Muscat, who are also the owner and CEO of OZO, respectively.
Gozo Fast Ferry
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