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Consortium of private sector companies to launch Caribbean ferry and cargo service this year

Connect Caribe, a privately-led regional ferry service company, along with its consortium partners, has unveiled plans to launch a groundbreaking inter-island ferry service connecting key destinations in the Eastern Caribbean.

Connect Caribe – a private sector led regional ferry service company and the consortium formed to manage that service are aiming to bring the Eastern Caribbean even closer with the launch of an inter-island ferry service. 

A high speed catamaran (fast ferry) will take passengers to destinations including Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and Barbados – all focused routes where e-commerce and travel will take place. It is expected that travellers will be charged a standard round fare of around US$100, excluding any individual government fees and charges.

President of the Consortium’s Tourism Division, Judeen Scantlebury said they will also announce the cost of a one way fare as they get closer to the launch date.

The company will start its operations with three vessels. One of those vessels will have the capacity to transport up to 800 passengers and includes 200 first-class cabins with beds, bathrooms and restaurants. The fast ferry will complement that vessel along with a cargo ship with the capacity to hold 147 20-foot containers, cargo and manufactured goods and produce.

Tore Torsteinson, owner of Windward Ferries Limited and former captain of the “MV Windward and now President of the Connect Caribe’s Ferry Division said the vessels will return to the same ports after making round trips each week. “The capacity of the fast ferry will be 400 passengers and 60 tons of cargo.”

The cargo vessel will also transport agriculture, chill, and frozen cargo on pallets between Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Barbados, St. Lucia every week.

“We are going to be the e-Commerce marketplace for the Caribbean region,” declared Anthony Hinkson, President of the E-Commerce Division. Based on scheduling, he said products sent to neighbouring islands can have potentially same-day delivery or up to three to five business days, better than the existing infrastructure.

According to Hinkson, the Caribbean expected to lose a projected US $4.8B in e-commerce this year, but the offered consortium service is aiming to reduce that number and keep money within the space. “Products produced in CARICOM are exempt from import tariffs which is more cost effective for our customers and keeps our foreign exchange within our region,” he stated. 

The vessels can also be used as standbys to assist with evacuations during times of disaster. 

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Ramps Logistics (the largest logistics company in the region), Pleion Group/Upturn Funds, Windward Ferries Limited, JS Cruises and Tour and Hinkson Computer Solutions are the partners behind the trade moniker – Connect Caribe.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Upturn Funds Caribbean/Pleion Group Inc., Dr. Andre Thomas said the consortium began studying the logistics of providing passenger and cargo services to these islands 18 months ago. “We proceeded to read every single study that had been done on maritime transportation … as we studied we discovered something very significant, that highlighted the fact that if you could connect the Caribbean together for people to move, light goods to move, and agriculture to move over a five year period, you would affect GDP by about five per cent ” he said.

“There’s a four-million people market,” Dr. Thomas said in support of the “Amazon-type e-commerce platform” being offered. 

The consortium has also invested in setting up an Agriculture Division, citing that a total US $8B leaves the Caribbean region to supplement its agricultural needs. He believes that the prices within the region are disproportionately affected by the fact that the actual benefits that can be accrued from moving product is loss because of an absence of transportation networks. 

The CEO said they have already engaged with leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including the Government of Barbados to synergise the service. “ We are working in a spirit of collaboration,” he said, noting that their service will not interfere with ongoing plans by the Governments of Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago to launch their own ferry service. “The routes that we’re looking at are completely different. in terms of cargo, we will be moving cargo, just cargo and heavy cargo, live cargo and agriculture in those particular routes including in Suriname and St Lucia,” he shared. 

Upturn Funds Caribbean in collaboration with Pleion Group Inc unveiled the joint-venture partnership during a press conference on Tuesday morning at the Wisdom Centre Auditorium in Barbados.

Dr. Thomas said they are hoping to expand their service after it has been launched at the end of 2024. 

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