Ponte Ferries is in serious trouble after being hit with a third vessel arrest warrant for its only catamaran, coupled with its pending multi-million-euro debt with a local bank.
Australian ship managers HSC Management Services Ltd filed for another arrest warrant against the company’s only catamaran HSC Artemis for over €324,000 in unpaid bills. Maritime industry sources told The Shift that “the company must be in dire financial straits” and expressed doubts as to whether it will ever resume operations.
The company’s CEO Edward Zammit Tabona did not reply to questions on its third consecutive vessel arrest warrant and whether the company will resume operations between Malta and Augusta next summer.
According to the Warrants of Arrests register published by Transport Malta, this third warrant against Ponte Ferries was issued by Magistrate Audrey Demicoli some two weeks ago. It is still in place since Ponte Ferries is still to settle the €324,000 issue with the vessel’s management company.
HSC Management, one of the world’s top ship management companies, was contracted by Ponte Ferries for services, including the supply of crew, maintenance, dry docking and certification.
This latest vessel arrest warrant is on top of another already in place by Valletta Cruise Port, which is asking Ponte ferries to pay some €200,000 in berthing fees for using Wine Wharf.
The first warrant of arrest issued against Ponte Ferries was lifted just a few days after its filing after the company reached an out-of-court settlement with the Focal Maritime shipping agency, which was owed €110,000.
On top of all these troubles, Ponte Ferries owes several million euros for an outstanding loan from a local bank when it acquired the 30-year-old vessel.
The company’s catamaran has been ‘under arrest’ (seizure) since the end of October, with specific instructions from the Harbour Master for it to not leave its berth for any reason.
The Shift has already reported that most of the vessel’s crew has either been fired or otherwise left the company.
Last September, Ponte Ferries suddenly announced it was “pausing its operations for winter”. This happened after a month of passengers complaining about shoddy service, last-minute trip cancellations and massive delays.
The company is owned by Ponte Investments Ltd, in which Gozitan tomato product producers Magro Brothers and Julian and Michael Zammit Tabona of the Fortina Group are majority shareholders. Fortina Group CEO Edward Zammit Tabona and Magro Brothers CEO Christian Magro sit on the company’s board of directors.
In the meantime, competition on the Malta-Sicily crossing can be expected to continue even with Ponte Ferries out of the picture.
PAMA boss Paul Gauci has already bought a small catamaran and intends to start trips to Marina di Ragusa after he acquired the marina’s concession. It is understood he is currently discussing plans with Transport Malta and the Sicilian port authorities.