Gov’t picks HMS Ferries to manage Puerto Rico’s ferry system
Two years after launching its search for a company to take over the operation of the ferry system connecting Puerto Rico with Vieques and Culebra, as well as San Juan and Cataño, the government’s Public-Private Partnership Authority announced it has chosen HMS Ferries to take over the responsibility, through a 23-year agreement.
Aside from managing the Maritime Transportation Authority’s ferries, the private operator will also oversee the maintenance of the terminals, facilities and vessels, the ticketing services, and operations in Isla Grande.
MTA Executive Director Mara Peréz said the system “was already facing serious issues” and after Hurricanes Irma and María it was “severely affected financially and operationally.”
The concession “allows us to capitalize in the experience and innovation of the private operator to provide a more efficient and reliable service, that will attend principally to the needs of the residents of the island-municipalities, promote the safety of our employees and passengers, increase revenue and reduce operational costs,” Pérez said.
Through the agreement, the government will make a fixed payment to HMS Ferries and will only begin splitting profits after the private operator makes its first $10 million in revenue. The contract calls for the government to pay the company $25 million during the transition period, another $36 million during the second and third year of the public-private partnership, and about $31 million after the fourth year of the agreement, El Nuevo Día reported.
P3 Authority Executive Director Fermín Fontanés confirmed the company to take over the MTA’s operations was chosen in 2019, as this media outlet reported. However, the announcement was held off until after the elections.
HMS Ferries was part of a short list of candidates that included Balearia Caribbean Inc., Priority Roro Services Inc., Puerto Rico Fast Ferries LLC., Seastreak, LLC and HMS Ferries.
“This public-private partnership agreement is the adequate mechanism so that the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, as well as Cataño, can have a maritime transportation service that is efficient, reliable and consistent,” Fontánes said.
“We’re convinced that the selection of HMS Ferries will lead the way to improve this service, under the highest standards, according to successful models in other jurisdictions,” he said.
The selection of the private operator was done in coordination with the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico to ensure the legal framework of the transaction, Fontanés said.
The private ferry operator will seek to optimize the maritime transportation, as well as modernize the transportation service that has been plagued by malfunctions and broken down vessels.
The largest operator in cargo and passenger ferries based in Washington, HMS Ferries is also the first to operate its vessels under the International Maritime Organization’s High-Speed Craft Code, according to its website. It has several divisions — operating more than 100 vessels on a regular basis — including, ferries, government service, consulting, overnight cruises and dining cruises.
The company also serves public and private entities, as well as the United States military. Last year, the company carried 3 million passengers and 1 million vehicles aboard 18 vessels throughout the U.S., the government said.