Connect Caribe pushes forward start of regional ferry service

The private sector-led ferry service, Connect Caribe, Monday announced that it had reached an agreement with the Caribbean Private Sector Organisation (CPSO) and the Dubai-headquartered Jampur Group enabling it to begin its ferry service much earlier than had been expected.

Pleion Group Inc, which described itself as a Caribbean and US-based company with offices in the United States, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, said its purpose is to trigger economic growth through business development in the Caribbean and beyond.

“We are excited, we have reached a milestone in the development and implementation of this project earlier than we had anticipated and the reason for that is that there are two major partnerships that have turbo charged and accelerated the process of taking this maritime initiative from concept to reality,” Pleion Group Chairman Dr Andre Thomas told a virtual news conference.

“The first would be our partnership with the CPSO whose data, guidance and leadership in the implementation of the project has served to really accelerate us. Their understanding of the trade landscape has been indispensable in guiding us in making strategical and logical decisions where this project is actually concerned,” he added.

He said that the second major announcement is “our partnership with our new partner, which is the Jampur Group,” which he described as a “very strong company operating out of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) working across the continent of Africa” over 30 years and has a fleet of ships.

He said that the partnership will allow the Group to advance the Connect Caribe venture much faster than initially planned. Originally, it was envisaged that the ferry service, its first phase at least, would be operational by November 2024.

“We have entered into an agreement with them and they will be providing our first set of ships, which are being acquired as we speak and very soon will be on their way to the Caribbean waters.

“So the news that we have…the decision making in terms of our business development, our routes, our understanding of how to integrate our cargo platform with a travel platform, all that market information has been made available through our discussions with the CPSO and have been indispensable in accelerating that side of the business,” Thomas told reporters.

He said the Jampur Group has its own shipyard, repairing ships, noting that all aspects of the venture in the Caribbean are being met.

“We are very excited to announce this and so this will accelerate our launch date …that was due to be in the month of November. This definitely will accelerate it by a few months earlier and the approach that we are taking is going to be slightly different marked by the consultations we have had with the CPSO and also with the Jamour Group.

“So we are going to begin with a lot more ships, but slightly smaller ships that would go to many more places and we will begin with a very strong emphasis on the cargo element with also travel and then build towards having the two much larger cruise ships which we are actually working on and that would house over a thousand people each in the second phase of acquisition,” Thomas added.

Thomas said simultaneously, the group is working on integrating e-commerce options to make payments easier and that the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), a cross-border, financial market infrastructure, offered through the African Exim Import Bank is being seriously considered.

“I believe it (the PAPSS venture) will be game-changing for Caribbean economies,” Thomas said.

PSO chief executive officer, Dr. Patrick Antoine said this private venture has the backing of the body because there is a huge need for intra-regional transportation solutions.

“In working with them, our focus is going to continue to be to try to support the initiatives with Connect Caribe or other initiatives for this whole conundrum of successful connectivity in the Caribbean,” Antoine said, making references to the number of mandates given by the regional governments to the private sector group.

“One such is the project we are engaged in this morning, which is to contribute to a private sector solution to address the challenges of maritime transportation and at the time the focus was on the southern Caribbean, which we defined as all of the countries in the Eastern Caribbean, plus Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Suriname.

“So we are very focus on that,” he said, noting that he is also pleased that together with Connect Caribe, they are achieving this mandate.

“We want to say how happy we are that Connect Caribe has really taken this initiative really quite seriously and themselves pursued and championed this mandate…and they have formed a number of very interesting partnerships   to form themselves into a consortium and I think what we seeing here this morning is a manifestation of that,” Antoine added.

During the virtual news conference, it was announced that former Harbormaster of the port of Barbados, Richard Allen, has joined the Connect Caribe team and will be engaging customs and port authorities in the region so that the ports are ready to accept and accommodate the much-needed vessels.

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