Ponte Ferries faces furious customers after last-minute cancellation of travel to Sicily
The nascent ferry service Ponte Ferries infuriated hundreds of ticket holders on its first Malta-Sicily catamaran crossings after suddenly canceling trips with barely 24 hours’ notice.
The company was forced to postpone the start of its service because it failed to secure the mooring facilities in the Sicilian port of Augusta in time for its scheduled launch date today, August 6.
Citing a “last minute legal challenge” by “a competitor” over a compulsory license concession from the port of Augusta, Ponte Ferries’ eleventh hour announcement that the trips have been canceled means hundreds of families planning to travel by car to and from Sicily were left stranded.
Ponte Ferries is a joint venture between Zammit Tabonas of Fortina and the Gozitan manufacturer of tomato products Magro.
Virtu Ferries, which has operated a Malta-Sicily service for 30 years, immediately responded to Ponte’s request, saying it had issued “no such challenge”.
Ponte announced in June that he would begin his daily three-hour crossings on August 6 and sold hundreds of tickets – despite not having secured mooring facilities in Sicily yet.
Three weeks ago, The Shift reported that neither Ponte nor Virtu had been given the green light to begin transporting passengers to Augusta, although the two had applied for a concession to moor and disembark passengers in the port. .
The port authorities of Augusta (Autorita ‘di Sistema Portuale del Mare di Sicilia Orientale) told The Shift that while it was processing two applications, neither Virtu nor Ponte could start operations until a decision on the concession was made.
Asked what would happen on August 6, when Ponte Ferries announced their start date and sold tickets, a spokesperson for the Augusta Ports Authority said “no one can start a service without our permit “.
The Shift is informed that when potential ticket holders confronted Ponte about these reports, Ponte’s customer service agents told them that “The Shift story was fake news.”
Indeed, Ponte officials were always telling customers that the catamaran would sail as planned, today August 6 until yesterday morning – just hours before the announcement of their cancellation.
Ponte Ferries has yet to come up with a new schedule for the start of their Malta-Augusta ferry service. The Shift has learned that the Augusta port authorities have still not decided on the concession application for the Ponte and Virtu berthing facilities.
The roughly 300 passengers who had bought tickets to Sicily this morning are, as you might expect, furious at the last-minute cancellation of their plans, although Ponte has tried to appease them by offering them alternative arrangements.
Many have taken to social media to complain about Ponte’s “false expectations” and “amateurism”, accusing them of “selling fish at sea” when they knew they had no business. authorization to start their service.
Others complained that they could not contact the company to make separate arrangements or seek compensation, even though Ponte had promised charter flights and free vouchers as an alternative.
Competitors open fire
Ponte Ferries’ announcement of the trips canceled yesterday pointed to Virtu, saying the forced delay was due “to a last-minute challenge with the Sicilian authorities by another competing operator, who opposed the use by Laying of the port of Augusta “.
Virtu immediately denied this claim and said that she had made “no such challenge, or even any other”.
“Due to the time required and unlike our competitors, we have refrained from selling tickets for this route, and we will not sell until our permit is approved,” Virtu said in a statement.
“Ponte Ferries should not have sold and should not be selling tickets: it was this conduct that caused their last predicament and, more importantly, the distress and delusion of their customers,” the company said. veteran ferry.
The right process
In order to start operating a ferry service with one of the Italian ports, a potential operator must first apply to the competent port authority for a concession and the granting of mooring facilities, as well as satisfy other requirements, including maritime permits for the vessel used.
Ponte didn’t start the long application process until last May, after which Italian port authorities published the application and sought comments in June.
Although the request is still being processed, Ponte Ferries announced in June that the company would launch ferry services to Augusta on August 6 and immediately began selling tickets.
A spokesperson for the Augusta Port Authority told The Shift that while Virtu and Ponte’s concession requests are still “work in progress,” another request from Virtu for a similar concession to the port of Catania is also still under review.
The two Maltese operators are expected to secure their concessions for Augusta, but Italian authorities have not given a date for when that could be.