The Madeiran regional government’s plan, to establish a regular ferry service between the island and the mainland, lies in tatters with a seasonal service the most likely outcome.
In December 2017, some 13 applications were said to have been received with the government guaranteeing the service “would start in the summer of 2018.” What the government did not add was that the service will stop a couple of months later when tourist traffic drops off.
The regional government promised a dowry of €3 million, paid for from the island’s regional budget, to compensate the successful bidder, but no takers.
Madeira’s government said it wanted to make life easy for a new concession holder by reducing docking charges and promoting the service with taxpayers’ money.
Pedro Calado, vice president of the Madeiran government, said just a month ago, “One thing we can promise, and we will keep this promise, in the summer of 2018 we will have a ferry service for Madeira,” but the regional government now has decided to try and fine someone to run a summertime-only ferry service.
Island MPs claim their government has failed, with one demanding that the island government buys and operates a ferry itself.
Suspicions should have been raised when the first tender to run the service received no bidders, the second tender did but no company wants to run the service all year long.
For islanders, who have no alternative to air transport or rowing if they want to leave Madeira, a ferry operating all year would lower the costs of imported goods and would enable the export of regional products.
In 2012, the director of the Canaries-Madeira-Portimão line announced the end of the ferry service, complaining about high port charges, which the Madeiran government refused to review.
In 2014, a ‘Ferry to Madeira’ petition was launched after the 2008 to 2012 service from Funchal to and from Portimão, was suspended for as yet unexplained reasons.
In 2015, when Miguel Albuquerque was electioneering and later won the top job of running Madeira, a ferry service was added to his PSD manifesto, stating that he would “promote the maritime connection of passengers to the Portuguese continent.”
In the government’s original documentation, the programme refers to the promotion and encouragement of “maritime transport of passengers between Madeira and the mainland, and analysing the possibility of combining transport with cargo,” referring also to “maintaining the service throughout the year without interruption.”
The best that islanders now can hope for is a June 1st to September 15th service, with many holding out little hope that even this will be awarded.
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