Over the last two weeks up to yesterday, Government paid approximately US$29 million to Australian ship-builders Austal and Incat in down payments and other fees towards the purchase of the two passenger ferries.
Prime Minister Keith Rowley detailed the payments yesterday during a statement to Parliament on the acquisition of the ferries from Australian shipbuilders, as well as two Cape Class patrol boats for T&T’s Coast Guard.
In response to recent Opposition calls for Australian scrutiny of the procurement process for the vessels, Rowley gave a full chronological breakdown of how the acquisition arose, starting with discussions with Australian officials in 2017 and 2018, his Australian visit that year, public updates, inspection of the patrol vessels by T&T naval experts and this month’s payments.
“The procurement process used by Government in the present circumstances can withstand all scrutiny and is untainted,” he declared.
The Austal ferry costs US$73.5m and the Incat vessel US$72.9m. Rowley said as at January 7, Nidco had paid Austal US$8,148,000, with US$7,148,000 being the ten per cent down payment for the fast ferry plus a US$1 million scheduled acceleration payment.
Likewise, as at January 7, Nidco paid Incat US$15,595,400 with US$14,595,400 being the 20 per cent down payment for the fast ferry plus a US$1 million booking fee.
“Only (yesterday) a further sum of US$5,361,000 has been paid to Austal for the ordering of the engines for the fast ferries,”
Rowley said Government is pursuing financing arrangements with Australia’s EFIC export credit agency for the vessels. He said there are further sums which will become due under the contractual arrangements going forward until completion of the vessels.
He said the negotiation team, headed by Nidco chairman Herbert George, is working on the issue. He also said during a June 24 to July 1 visit to Australia, T&T Defence Force head Rear Admiral Hayden Pritchard and Engineering Officer Lieutenant Commander Rajesh Boodoo assessed Austal’s Cape Class patrol boat to determine its suitability and found the vessel “would be quite appropriate for the operation.”
The Austal ferry is a high-speed passenger/cargo roll-on/roll-off catamaran with capacity for approximately 930 passengers, inclusive of 132 VIP seats, 150 cars with accommodations for trucks and a prisoner holding cell for up to ten persons. Vessel speed is 37.5 knots.
The Incat ferry is a 100-metre high-speed passenger/cargo roll-on/ roll-off catamaran with a capacity for approximately 1,000 passengers inclusive of 224 VIP seats, 239 cars with accommodation for trucks and a prisoner holding cell for up to ten persons. Vessel speed is 39.5 knots.
“As is evident, at every step of the way, this Government has been transparent in how it has conducted itself. There have been several levels of evaluation and negotiations with Incat and Austal. At every step, Government has informed the public of its actions and decisions, unlike what transpired between 2010 and 2015. The then Government didn’t inform the public that it was procuring vessels for the Coast Guard from Damen. There was no transparency,” Rowley said.
“So to have the Opposition questioning the procurement of the two ordered fast ferries and the two Cape Class Patrol vessels from Incat and Austal and to have them bringing Trinidad and Tobago into disrepute by writing to the Attorney General of Australia making completely unfounded and spurious allegations is quite difficult to swallow knowing fully well how they conducted themselves before!”
He condemned Opposition attempts to “sully” this country’s image and name, their invitation to the Australian Opposition to oppose the matter and the approach to Australia’s Attorney General “to embroil the Australian Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago in a contrived fabricated scandal without a shred of information.”