Two new ferries for Robben Island

Jason Felix

IN response to the public outcry over its poor services in December, the same month in which Nelson Mandela died, the Robben Island Museum is to acquire two new ferries.

The museum has invited tenders for the new ferries with a capacity of 150 to 180 passengers, and prospective suppliers have until March 14 to put it their tenders.

“We have had problems with our operations in December and the council took a decision to look to the market and procure new vessels. We realised that our current operational model is not working,” the museum’s chief executive, Sibongiseni Mkhize, said yesterday.

Last month, some Robben Island tour operators said there had been complaints from clients who condemned the service and cancellation of tours during the festive season.

During the peak of tourist visits to the island in December, the museum cancelled several tours after it failed to secure enough chartered boats.

Many visitors who were eager to visit the island and pay homage to Mandela were furious when the museum cancelled trips because its flagship ferry, Sikhululekile, had broken down again.

The ferry had been out of service, undergoing repairs, since the beginning of December. It was the latest in a series of setbacks the ferry had faced since 2008.

When festive season visitor numbers for Cape Town’s main tourist attractions were announced last month, Robben Island was the only one that had recorded a decline (5 percent) in the number of visitors in 2013 compared to 2012.

Mkhize said yesterday there was no set amount the museum

would fork out on new ferries.

“We have not put any money aside for the procurement. It is simply an invitation to the industry. We will be guided by the industry as to how much to spend on the new vessels.

“If the cost for the new vessels fits our budget, we will spend it, or look to the Treasury for assistance,” he said.

The museum’s old ferries would remain in its fleet, as they were part of the museum’s history, said Mkhize. “Our biggest challenge has been that we have one ferry with excellent speed and great capacity. We are looking to get a new, similar one to boost our business.”

Mkhize said there was no substitute for the island’s biggest ferry, the Sikhululekile, when it was out of commission.

“Even when the other ferries have to go in for service repairs, we cannot operate with the same capacity,” he said. The tender process was expected to take three months.

Cape Town mayco member for tourism and events Grant Pascoe said the decision was “a

step in the right direction”.

Tourism MEC Alan Winde said: “It is good to have a bit of the old ferries and new ones. Robben Island is part of our image that has made the Western Cape one of the biggest tourist attractions.

“We have to protect these attractions and make sure they are readily available for our visitors. People also go there to see the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and we should ensure that visitors can get there without any problem.”

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