Saba Commissioner of Finance, Infrastructure, Airport and Harbor Affairs Bruce Zagers made clear during a Central Committee meeting of the Island Council on Tuesday that the Public Entities Saba and St. Eustatius or the ferry operator Blues and Blues Ltd. of Anguilla are not at fault for the delay of the start of the new ferry service, which is now projected for December 1.
The Makana was originally supposed to start the ferry service between St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba per November 1, but this date had to be postponed due to logistical challenges with two departments of the Caribbean Netherlands National Government Service (RCN): the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee KMAR which handles immigration in the Caribbean Netherlands, and the Caribbean Netherlands Customs Department.
Due to the regulated operating hours from 7:00am to 7:00pm, the KMAR and Customs indicated that they were unable to meet the needs of the schedule for the new ferry service and that they are short-staffed to work outside these hours. The KMAR has said that it sees possibilities for a solution. However, the Customs Department said it could not give its approval for the ferry schedule and has given the lack of staff as a reason.
Commissioner Zagers was very critical of the developments. “The problem with the delay lies with Customs and Immigration. They say that they are understaffed and can’t be present at the arrival and departure of the ferry because it falls outside their working hours. They advised us to work with a reduced operation until a permanent solution is found. That is unacceptable to Saba and Statia,” he said.
The Public Entities Saba and St. Eustatius have therefore decided to escalate the situation to The Hague, announced Zagers.
A letter of the two public entities will shortly be sent to the Ministries of Infrastructure and Water Management (IenW), Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK), Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK), Finance, and Justice and Safety (JenV) with a request for flexibility in the working hours and to grant temporary extra staff from the Netherlands to enable the start of the ferry service as soon as possible. “We hope to start the new ferry service per December 1, but this will depend on the reply of The Hague and the flexibility of Customs and Immigration,” said Zagers.
Island Council Member Hemmie van Xanten shared Zagers’ criticism and concerns. “I am surprised to hear that two entities of the RCN were able to single-handedly stop the ferry service. It is shocking that the Netherlands is allowing this to happen. It is ridiculous that after thorough preparation, the ferry service can’t start because of two RCN departments. When you live on an island, you need to be a bit flexible,” he said.
Funding for the ferry service comes from the Ministry of IenW, which has granted a subsidy of 2 million euros for the first two years to realize a sustainable Public Service Obligation (PSO) agreement.