Aug. 15, 2005 – "Our boat will be here. We will do what we say we are going to do," Robert C. Siebengartner told reporters and audience members Monday at the St. Croix Curriculum Center.
The boat he is talking about is a 308-passenger ferry that can make the trip between St. Croix and St. Thomas in an hour and five minutes.
The commitment is to begin year-round ferry service this November. The goal price for a round-trip, resident, adult ticket is $60. Senior round-trip tickets will be $50 for locals, and children under three will ride free. Prices for tourists will be $10 more.
Siebengartner said he is the managing member for a group of investors who have already incorporated under the name Caledonia as a St. Croix business, but are thinking of changing the company name to Island Lynx. Whether they change the corporation name or not, they will operate using Island Lynx. Siebengartner said the company name will play on the name of lynx as a "fast cat" and also as links between islands.
Siebengartner lives in London. St. Croix resident Hal Lacey is representing the business on the island. Kevin Rames is its attorney. Siebengartner said the company would be a local company employing 20 residents the first year and 40 the second year. Only the captain and chief engineer positions are expected to be filled with off-islanders.
The investors, according to Siebengartner, operate ferries in the North and Baltic seas. He said among the investors is the largest operator of ferries in Holland.
The group reportedly was looking at the V.I. market for over three years and was just waiting for the right boat. The vessel they found is presently operating in Egyptian waters and was built in 1998 at the cost of $8 million, but Siebengartner said it would cost $15 million to replace it now. It is being put on a ship early in September and brought to the Virgin Islands. At the time the ship is being loaded, Siebengartner said a major marketing campaign will begin in the Virgin Islands. When the ferry arrives in the Virgin Islands, it will be called the Quelbe .
The ferry will also be able to carry 12 cars or 14 tons of cargo. Present rules and regulations make transporting cars between St. Thomas and St. Croix very cumbersome, so Siebengartner said the company would be concentrating on cargo at first. He said he has already talked to stores like Home Depot to facilitate same-day deliveries for orders from St. Thomas to St. Croix. He said, "There is a lot of opportunity here. We will help stir up some trade between the islands."
He said there have also been discussions between the company and the cruise lines. He said, "We told them we can take their passengers over to St. Croix and have them back in time." He said he believed this effort would be successful because the Quelbe would meet all cruise line standards.
The Quelbe will have a bar on the top deck and a snack bar on the main deck. There are television viewing areas and some of the deck is carpeted. An extra mast is being added to the boat to allow cell phone and laptop computer use during the crossing.
Upon arrival, the boat will begin service between St. Croix and St. Thomas. However, according to Siebengartner, trips to Tortola, Culebra and Vieques will also be scheduled. The schedule is far from firm, but it appears that the ferry will be in operation seven days a week. Siebengartner said, "Eight million dollars worth of aluminum sitting alongside a dock makes no one any money nor provides anyone with service."
Sam Baptiste of Team St. Croix, a community activist organization, expressed support for the project. He said he could not speak for all the members, but in his opinion, it would give the local economy a boost and also allow residents who don't get to travel much between the islands more opportunity to do so.
Siebengartner said V.I. officials "from the top down have been amazingly supportive." He said docking space at Gallows Bay in St. Croix and at Smith's Ferry Service in St. Croix has been secured. A passenger lounge is being established at Gallows Bay.
Siebengartner said, "The big question is whether the Boston ferry is coming back and no one knows the answer." He said if that ferry, which has serviced the Virgin Islands in season, returns, "We will deal with it."
He said there is the option that the two ferry operators could work as a team expanding routes, and he added with a smile, "Of course, we should get the more profitable routes."
The company will consider docking in Frederiksted if there is customer demand. It will also be considering docking in St. John.
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