National Assembly | 27 May 2020
Ferry operators seek assistance amid COVID-19 downturn
Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine Didier Dogley yesterday committed to starting dialogue with ferry operators to determine how the government may be of assistance to the sector during these difficult times, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Dogley made the commitment in response to a Private Notice Question (PNQ) by leader of the opposition Wavel Ramkalawan in which he proposed that the government considers concessions on fuel (similar to those from which artisanal fishermen benefit), especially since the sector is now faced with economic difficulties, on account that the tourism industry is now at a stand-still and it was the tickets sold to tourists which enabled operators to offer to Seychellois passengers reduced prices.
Minister Dogley first clarified the government has thus far not received any requests for assistance specifically from ferry operators, noting the different schemes and measures put in place by the government under which the operators can benefit, such as guaranteed salary payments for private sector under the Financial Assistance For Job Retention (FA4JR) scheme, under which salary payments for Seychellois employees are guaranteed until December, the R500 million line of credit available to the private sector at low interest, 6-month business tax exemption until September, as well as the moratorium on loans and interest payments.
Minister Dogley pointed out that there need to be a formal request to the government and government will evaluate demand and through consultations come up with a solution. With regard to the proposition to give ferry operators fuel concessions, Minister Dogley made reference to the Auditor General’s report which was published last year in which it was highlighted that the fuel concession system is open to much abuse.
He further stated measures put in place by the Seychelles Ports Authority (SPA) is considering giving ferry operators a six-month grace period for certain port fees and that concessions on berthing fees have already been implemented, until tourism picks up and ferry operators return to business as usual.
Honourable Ramkalawan and numerous other members, including United Seychelles (US) member Sebastien Pillay, Honourable Wavel Woodcock and US member Chantal Ghislain pointed out the significant reduction in capacity of the ferries on account of the social distancing requirement in place and the implications of this for passengers who are often finding themselves unable to get a seat, asserting that such businesses are not generating enough revenue to cover costs of transportation, inclusive of fuel costs.
Hon. Ramkalawan further noted that the two main ferry operators have since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country and the imposition of the prohibition on movement order significantly cut back to one or two trips daily, noting that a single Cat Cocos trip from Mahé to Praslin costs the operator R15,000, the two main operators, Cat Roses and Cat Cocos were yet to benefit from financial assistance under the FA4JR scheme by yesterday.
In citing the cost per trip, Hon. Ramkalawan asserted that the fact that the cost is already known to the government, there leaves no room for abuses in relation to fuel concessions.
“Ferries is a sector which performs very well when it is operating as usual. The government sees no necessity to extend support unless there is demand now with the COVID-19 situation. Transportation to and from the islands has always been considered as essential to government,” Minister Dogley said in response to Honourable Gervais Henrie’s intervention.
According to statistics held by the ministry, last year 317,635 people travelled from Mahé to Praslin, 325,886 from Praslin to Mahé, 234,878 from Praslin to La Digue, 221,734 from La Digue to Praslin, 98,046 from La Digue to Mahé and 80,507 from Mahé to La Digue bringing the total number of passengers to 1.3 million.
Minister Dogley concluded the session by committing to following-up with the operators and from there decide how best to assist them.
“We had started work on the Seychelles Maritime Safety Authority law, in which there is a provision to regulate ferry operations in Seychelles. We had already started but stopped due to COVID-19, and part of the work was to review routes given to operators. There is a need for more research to render the sector more interesting to operators and to benefit all who make use of the service. Two operators basically have monopoly and it is difficult for government to regulate,” Minister Dogley said.