The Greek owners of Gozo’s Channel’s hired fourth ferry have once again snubbed a public tender issued by the government aimed at reducing its costs for the mediocre service being delivered by the 35-year-old MV Nikolaos.
At the closing of a public tender process this week, which called for “the hire of a vessel under a time charter agreement”, no bids were submitted – not even from the owners of the MV Nikolaos, who seem to prefer the previous conditions of their direct order, which is costing around €10,000 a day excluding fuel.
This is the second time a tender for an additional vessel to be added to Gozo Channel’s permanent three-ship fleet has been issued, and both had the same dismal results.
Gozo Channel, which is registering millions of euros in losses every year despite its millions of euros in taxpayer subsidies, has been leasing out the old Greek ship since 2019 by direct order.
The vessel is hired through a wet lease, which includes the provision of the ship’s crew, and it is restricted in its operations because of its old age.
The ship is not allowed under international maritime rules to operate at full capacity in winter and the vessel is taken out of service for a few hours every afternoon for a crew break.
Since the 2019 direct order is in breach of EU rules and the government is still depending on an expired Public Service Obligation since it has failed to assign a new tender since 2017, an attempt was made to try to secure a new fourth ferry service through the proper channel of a public tender.
Those efforts, however, have now been unsuccessful twice over.
A first tender published last November called for the successful bidder to commence services between Malta and Gozo within just two months of the contract’s award but failed to attract bidders.
The second attempt through a tender published last July also failed to attract a single bidder.
Gozo Channel will now be forced, perhaps conveniently, to award a new direct order to keep the MV Nikolaos as the fourth ferry in its fleet on the same terms, meaning the government will have to continue injecting millions of euros into the company’s operations to keep it afloat.