Hundreds of passengers were left stranded on Independence Day when Ponte Ferries – the new Malta-Sicily catamaran operator – cancelled its scheduled services with passengers already having boarded the vessel.
Passengers who were left stranded last Wednesday, either in Valletta or Augusta, told The Shift that the company owned by part of the Zammit Tabona family (owned by Michael and Julian Zammit Tabona) of the Fortina Group and Gozitan tomato products producer, the Magro Group, was “embarrassing the country with a Third World service”.
Passengers told The Shift how, after queuing with their vehicles from 3am to board the 5am scheduled departure from Valletta, they were told through an onboard announcement that the vessel was to depart late “due to technical problems”.
“They left everyone onboard, and at 6am they made another announcement that the voyage was cancelled,” an angry passenger told The Shift.
Passengers also complained that the vessel’s staff treated them with disrespect whenever they tried to ask what was happening.
A number of disgruntled passengers took to social media to vent their frustrations about the service, or lack thereof, with many recounting similar experiences over recent weeks.
Contacted for a reaction, Ponte Ferries CEO Edward Zammit Tabona refused to give any details.
Passengers told The Shift that the vessel resumed its scheduled service yesterday but noticed the ship was taking longer to make the crossing, apparently because of a defective engine.
Ponte is plying its daily service with the HSC Artemis, which is over 20 years old.
This latest trip cancellation is one in a series of incidents characterising Ponte’s bumpy ride in attempting to compete with its arch-rival Virtu Ferries, which has been operating the shorter route to Pozzallo for the past 30 years.
Many had welcomed the advent of competition in high-speed crossings to Sicily as travellers had long complained about the high prices charged by Virtu, thanks to what was effectively a monopoly.
However, the initial enthusiasm soon turned into frustration as Ponte’s service began experiencing regular problems, including a false start last year with many having dashed their holiday plans after the service failed to commence on the targeted date.
Other incidents included the vessel’s seizure by the Italian authorities due to a lack of compliance with international regulations.
It is not yet established whether Ponte will continue to offer the daily service in winter.
So far passengers are not allowed to book next month. When asked, Ponte refused to divulge any information.