New St. John Ferries Wait for USCG Inspections, Drills To Be Scheduled

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Amid reports that the island’s two new government-owned vessels have not been put into service because they have too little space for passenger luggage,
a U.S. Coast Guard official acknowledged the vessels have yet to be officially inspected. 

“We have gone out and taken a cursory look at them in regards to anything major,” Lt. Commander Bryson Spangler of the U.S. Coast Guard on St. Thomas told Tradewinds Thursday, January 16. “They have not undergone inspection for certification.”

Lt. Cmdr. Spangler said the USCG inspection is awaiting DPW “finalizing contracts with Varlack (Ventures) and TS (Transportation Services),” the two private companies who share the operation of the St. John ferry service.

“The hold up is more on Public Works side,” Lt. Cmdr. Spangler said. “We will make ourselves available.”

The USCG official acknowledged there were some unresolved issues between the private ferry companies and the territorial officials

“The real reason is we’re not sure which company has which vessel,” Lt. Cmdr. Spangler said. “The territory is going to own them, but Varlack and Transportation Services will be the operators.”

Despite reports that the ferry companies, who each own the ferries they currently operate on the shared run between Cruz Bay and Red Hook, St. Thomas, do not want to operate government-owned vessels, the USCG inspections and crew training should not significantly delay putting the vessels into service, the USCG officer said. 

Inspection and drills “won’t take long — once we get word,” Lt. Cmdr. Spangler added. “We also will be doing (safety) drills; but we can’t do that until the crews are identified.”

Lt. Cmdr. Spangler said he was aware of reports that the delay in putting the new ferries into service ostensibly involved dissatisfaction with the amount of luggage space on the new vessels.

“I have heard that they are not happy with the amount of luggage space,” the USCG officer said. “They [the ferry operators] probably would have been happier with more [luggage space].”

“They are designed to carry more people,” Lt. Cmdr. Spangler added.