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Gozo Minister refuses to reply on fast ferry

Says she is not in position to give information

Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana refuses to give details on the process through which Gozo Channel selected an “inexperienced” company to act as its partner in a fast ferry service between Malta and Gozo.

After turning down a request from the Times of Malta for information, Dr Caruana also evaded questions in Parliament on the partnership subject.

Gozo shadow minister Chris Said asked her to name the members of the evaluation board that had selected Islands Ferry Network Ltd and to say who the seven bidders were who, according to the government, had submitted an offer.

No names were given, with the minister arguing that since the process was being challenged in front of the Public Contracts Review Board, she was not in a position to give any information.

Tender was written to satisfy Gozo Channel’s needs, to the exclusion of new operators

The Times of Malta is informed that the evaluation committee appointed by Gozo Channel for the selection of a fast ferry partner was headed by Joseph Cuschieri, the former executive chairman of the Malta Gaming Authority, who was recently selected by the Office of the Prime Minister as the Malta Financial Services Authority’s new CEO.

So far, the only two bidders known to have made an offer to act as Gozo Channel’s fast ferry operators are Islands Ferry Network Ltd – a joint venture between agri-food producers Magro Brothers, Fortel Investments, the owners of the Fortina Hotel, and Captain Morgan cruises – as well as Virtu Ferries.

In a short statement last month, the Gozo Ministry named Islands Ferry as the selected bidder.

This led Virtu Ferries, the operators of the fast catamaran service between Malta and Sicily, to launch a legal challenge contesting the selection.

According to Virtu, the selected company, which was officially registered just a few days before the public announcement, did not have the necessary experience and resources to carry out such a service.

Virtu is also challenging a tender issued by Transport Malta that is connected to the provision of Malta-Gozo ferry services and the provision of government subsidies for the operation.

According to Virtu, the tender was written to satisfy the needs of Gozo Channel while excluding new operators, which it insisted violated EU rules.

The tender has been suspended until a decision is made by the Public Contracts Review Board.

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