The delayed start of the ferry service between St Eustatius, Saba and St Maarten was not caused by the ministries concerned, nor was it the result of a lack of cooperation between these departments. State Secretary Knops (BZK) states this also on behalf of fellow ministers of Infrastructure and Water Management, Defence and Finance in his answer to written questions from members of parliament Aukje de Vries (WD) and Jorien Wuite (D66).
Knops emphasizes that it is the boards of St. Eustatius and Saba that are responsible for the implementation. The first delay was caused by the extension of the tendering procedure. After this was completed, it was discovered that the required safety certificates were missing.
By determining the sailing schedule later, the Marechaussee and Customs could only adjust their schedules later. The ferry service started on 1 December.
On 24 October 2020, the cabinet approved the proposal of the public entities of Saba and St Eustatius for a pilot project ferry service for the duration of two years. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management has made €2 million available to the public entity Saba for this purpose at the end of 2020.
It has been agreed that the project will be carried out by the public entities of Saba and St Eustatius and that part of the resources will be used for the hiring of external expertise. The project was put out to tender locally in the summer of 2021 by the local project group ferry service Saba/St Eustatius. The Saba/St Eustatius ferry group consists of representatives of the public entities Saba and St Eustatius and hired external experts.
In the summer of 2021, the tender procedure for the ferry service was started, with 1 November 2021 initially being set as the target date for the start of the ferry service. However, due to the extension of the tender deadline at the request of the participating parties, the target date of the start had to be adjusted to 14 November 2021.
In addition, the public sector bodies needed more time to settle some missing safety certificates. In addition, the final sailing schedule could only be drawn up after the tender procedure.
The Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (hereinafter KMar) and the Caribbean Netherlands Customs were informed about the sailing schedule on 7 October and that could therefore only be discussed with them at that time. In the meantime, the ferry service has started in good consultation between all parties involved as of 1 December 2021 in accordance with the intended sailing schedule.
The Admittance and Expulsion Regulation for the Caribbean Netherlands states that the border control facilities at the harbours in Saba and St. Eustatius are open from 7:00am to 7:00pm. According to Knops, longer opening times require additional personnel, adapted planning and amending the law.
Marechaussee and Customs controls are being executed in Saba, which offers the possibility to maintain a ferry schedule that fits within the opening times, as the ferry arrives in Saba from St. Eustatius around 7:00am and arrives in Saba from St. Maarten before 7:00pm, onwards to St. Eustatius.
Knops admitted that it was of “essential importance” that the islands had good connectivity and that inter-island travel schedules had to work in the interest of residents and tourism alike. “That is currently not the case. Ticket prices for sea and air transport are high and the frequency of connections is limited.”
The air and sea connections need to be secured to improve the connectivity of Saba and St. Eustatius, Knops stated. “Transport via air and sea complement each other, but it cannot be simply said that sea transport is an alternative to air transport. The travel time via ferry is substantially longer than by aircraft.”
Knops remarked that a longer travel time has consequences for life in Saba and St. Eustatius when residents need to travel to St. Maarten for educational or medical reasons. Also, travel by ferry is not always possible due to bad weather.
“I share the concerns of the Second Chamber about the high ticket prices for air travel,” he stated in response to questions by Wuite and De Vries.