Updated to include Virtu statement dismissing speculation the legal challenge was its.
Ponte Ferries has announced a postponement of the launch of its ferry service to Sicily due to a last-minute legal challenge taken to Sicilian authorities by an unspecified competing operator.
It was initially understood that Virtu Ferries launched the legal challenge, but the company has flatly denied the accusation.
“Ponte Ferries have once again had to delay their ferry service, no doubt causing their clients much angst. This time they are seeking to conceal from their responsibility by seeking to shift the blame on Virtu Ferries, alleging that we have made a last-minute legal challenge,” a statement released in the evening read.
“Virtu Ferries made no such, or indeed any other, challenge.”
Virtu, which operates a ferry service between Malta and Sicily through the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, is also attempting to get its own concession from the port authorities of Augusta and Catania, however, it claims that neither it nor Virtu have yet received approval to do so.
“Ponte Ferries was ready to start its service from tomorrow; however, it cannot proceed as planned after another competing operator, which does not travel to the Augusta port, submitted a contestation at the eleventh hour against Ponte’s use of the berthing area for which it had applied last November”, Ponte said in its initial statement.
For customers who had booked ferry trips for the coming days, Ponte has chartered an aircraft and will be providing a free voucher for car rental, it said.
Alternatively, customers will be able to claim an instant refund and will be given a voucher to use the service for free in the next year.
A spokesman for Ponte commented: “We apologise to our customers first and foremost for the huge disappointment this development will inevitably cause. We know how important their holidays are and are doing everything we can to make it up to them while we work round the clock to resolve this issue.
“Ponte’s objective from the start has been to offer an alternative ferry service to Sicily for customers who want value and a choice of operators, and we remain committed to fulfilling our mission.”
Newly-launched Ponte Ferries in December announced it would be providing a Malta-Sicily fast ferry service from summer 2021 with a 96-metre passenger, vehicle and cargo-carrying, high-speed craft.
The ferry service was scheduled shuttle every day between Malta and the Port of Augusta — situated between Catania and Syracuse.
Announcing the route, the company said it “promises to bring much-needed choice and competition” to the Sicily to Malta ferry services.
Ponte Ferries is a joint venture between Magro Brothers Investments Ltd and Merill In-vest Ltd, owned by entrepreneur brothers Michael and Julian Zammit Tabona, and businessmen Mario and Fabio Muscat, who are also the owner and CEO of OZO Group, respectively.
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