Ponte Ferries calls it a day and sells its catamaran to Spanish company

The company will still need to settle some hefty bills before the ship’s arrest warrant is lifted.


Ponte Ferries’ catamaran, the HSC Artemis will soon be able to weigh anchor and leave the Grand Harbour after its owners – the Fortina Group and the Magro Group – have sold the 600-passenger catamaran to a Spanish company.

According to a statement published by the FRS Iberia shipping company, which operates crossings between Spain and Morocco through the Strait of Gibraltar, the ageing catamaran will be joining its fleet next month.

The company did not state how much it paid for the ship’s acquisition.

Sources at Transport Malta have told The Shift that the HSC Artemis had been seized under a warrant of arrest for months and that it would not be allowed to leave Maltese waters until its owners pay all debts that have been accumulated with various suppliers.

A new arrest warrant was recently issued against the company that owns the vessel, Ponte Investments Ltd, for a debt of almost €1 million owed to Valletta Cruise Port for berthing facilities.

This latest arrest warrant follows another three issued within the span of a few months that were filed in court by HSC Management Services Ltd (€324,000), Focal Maritime Services Ltd (€109,000) and another by Valletta Cruise Port (€194,000).

Sources have also said that Ponte also owes millions of euros to Bank of Valletta for the original loan facilities.

Ponte Ferries had begun operations last summer to the port of Augusta promising to shake up the status quo of Malta to Sicily passenger ferry crossings by offering customers a cheaper alternative to Virtu Ferries, which has been operating the crossing for the last 30 years.

But inexperience, lack of staff and technical problems due to the vessel’s age rendered the service unreliable and left a bad taste in customers’ mouths after many of them had been left stranded in Sicily or had their voyages delayed by several hours.

In September 2022, the company, whose directors are Fortina Group CEO Edward Zammit Tabona and Magro Brothers’ CEO Christopher Magro, announced that the service was to be paused for winter.

But as debts continued to accumulate and suppliers started calling in their dues, the company wrapped up operations after just a few months.

This latest development left the Sicily-Malta fast ferry crossings once again in a quasi-monopoly situation, with Virtu Ferries being the only operator.

Pavi and Pama Supermarkets owner Paul Gauci announced several months ago the intention to begin offering another alternative service to Sicily.

The idea is to introduce trips from Malta with a small catamaran to the Marina di Ragusa, which he is managing under a concession, but nothing has materialised so far.

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3 months ago

Soon we’ll have Luzu travel to go to Sicily.

Joseph Mifsud
Joseph Mifsud
3 months ago

In certain circumstances where numbers are very small competition is not sustainable, so the present monopoly situation is illegal.
Both the Maltese government and the EU Commission are responsible to take action, the question is how!

Tommy Cauchi
Tommy Cauchi
3 months ago
Reply to  Joseph Mifsud

Illigal? Why don’t you invest and compete with the established operators. Make it cheap. Make it Faster. And make it more regular. Doubt anyone can manage and remain in business for long. The Eu does not subsidise Passenger and Cargo Vessels. And it should not subsidise your holiday either.

charles cilia
charles cilia
2 months ago
Reply to  Joseph Mifsud

Your comment does not make sense. What makes it illegal if the monopoly is abused and not because there is no competion.

Andrew Bezzina
Andrew Bezzina
3 months ago

Without competition its only the company that has the monopoly that benefits. Incompetence and inexperience might have been major factors here. But it seemed back then that Virtu was doing everything in there power to hinder the service from going ahead. Hopefully this won’t discourage others from entering the market. With more reasonable rates this could easily be a sector with major growth potential. With Malta becoming increasingly overcrowded i for one escape to Sicily as often as I can.

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