June 7, 2001 — Seaborne Airlines on Tuesday made a formal request to the V.I. Port Authority that it should be allowed to operate a subsidized ferry service between St. Croix and St. Thomas if the authority secures the funding.
The airline’s announcement came as the Port Authority and Boston Harbor Cruises were preparing to meet Thursday to discuss that company’s proposed inter-island fast ferry service. Maurice Kurg, Seaborne’s president and CEO, said local or federal financial support of any ferry service could undermine current air service between St. Croix and St. Thomas.
The issue about a subsidized ferry service came up last week when Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, told St. Croix business owners that the authority was considering approaching the federal government about ferry transportation as a mass transportation alternative in the territory. That would allow the Port Authority to become eligible for federal funding to buy and operate ferries.
Kurg said that if Airborne got into the ferry business, be it funded by the federal or local government, the airline could bring its facilities, systems and high volume of passengers to the table.
"We believe that a joint ferry/seaplane operation would dovetail nicely with our current plans for expansion in the local Caribbean," Kurg said in a release. "It would allow us to spread out overhead over a much larger base, thereby providing an excellent mix of convenient and low-priced options for our travelers."
And compared to Boston Harbor Cruises, which is proposing service between December and April, Kurg said a Seaborne ferry would run year-round and be staffed by local residents, just as the airline operates.
"While we welcome competition and the economic benefits of expanded inter-island travel, we also think it imperative that local authorities remember that we carry hundreds of Virgin Islanders per day, and we do it year round while investing in the local infrastructure, and contributing to the local economy by employing almost 100 Virgin Islanders," Kurg said.
Meanwhile, Kurg noted that if $10 million in subsidies were put toward inter-island air travel – particularly seaplane flights – Seaborne could connect St. Thomas and St. Croix every 15 minutes for a price comparable with the ferry. He noted that Seaborne is establishing bases in both Old San Juan and Frederiksted, with service to be initiated shortly, and hopes to resume service to the British Virgin Islands by the coming winter season.
When Boston Harbor Cruises was in the territory for a 30-day trial run in April, it charged $40 round trip, $25 one way, for local residents. For visitors, the fares were $50 round trip and $30 one way. There was a $5 port charge on all tickets.
When the ferry was running, Seaborne responded by reducing the price of its round-trip fare between islands by about half, to $59.50, with restrictions.
The Port Authority’s Finch could not be immediately reached for comment.


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