On Tuesday, Sicilian media reported that Ponte Ferries has opted to permanently shut down its ferry service to Augusta port.
Siracusanews.it reported that the Maltese company behind Ponte Ferries has written to the Augusta port authorities seeking to have its concession to operate the service revoked.
Ponte Ferries is owned by Ponte Investments Ltd, which is backed by Magro Brothers, producers of Gozo tomato Products, and Merill Invest Limited, whose directors are OZO Group founder Mario Muscat, and Fortina Group’s Julian and Michael Zammit Tabona.
According to the Sicilian news outlet, West Sicily port authority chairman Francesco Di Sarcina said that the company could not proceed with running the service “for its own reasons” and “has asked to revoke the concession”.
BusinessNow.mt reached out to Ponte Ferries for confirmation of the story, and to understand what led to the development, however a spokesperson said the company was “not interested” in commenting “at this point”.
Last September, Ponte had announced it was temporarily suspending its Augusta service for the winter, also without explaining why. The company operates the service via a single vessel, the HSC Artemis, and has been dogged by complaints by passengers who said the trips were taking longer than advertised, due to a combination of bad weather and technical difficulties.
Cancelled trips and requests for refunds further afflicted the company earlier in September.
When the company announced a service suspension, sources said it needed time to effect hefty maintenance works.
Ponte’s operation of the Malta-Augusta port service has been plagued with difficulty from the start. Its first trips were made in November 2021, and provided an alternative to Virtu Ferries’ service to Pozzallo. The company had planned to launch in August 2021 but was delayed when a last-minute legal challenge contested the use of the berthing area.
It suspended the service in winter 2021/2022, and resumed the following May after its catamaran was released from detention. Media reports suggested it had been detained due to non-compliance of employment conditions laid out by the Maritime Labour Convention and missing documentation related to crew certifications.
The company had a relatively smooth summer, before stopping in September for what would appear to be its last trip. The company had said that between May and September it carried over 32,000 passengers and over 6,000 vehicles.
Its troubles didn’t end there, however, when the catamaran was detained by court decree after a shipping agent claimed it was owed debts of over €100,000. A settlement was reached shortly after, with Ponte remaining quiet ever since.
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