Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 December 2016
After much debate about the longterm future of Lungi airport – Sierra Leone’s international airport, and the construction of a new airport funded by a $400 million loan from the Chinese, there has been speculation and doubts about the continuation of a ferry service from Lungi to mainland Freetown. (Photo: Sovereign Ferries’ – the Sierra Queen).
The current ferry service is managed by a Lebanese entrepreneur contracted by the government on a lease agreement. But the service is very poor, dangerous and unreliable.
Since the 1980s when funding for the management of the government owned ferry service dried out and the authorities decided to subcontract the running of the service to the private sector, not much investment has gone into improving the quality of the ferries themselves – of which there are only two.
Frequent breakdowns, corruption, lack of spare parts, and the high incidence of the ferries going aground or drifting into the Atlantic Ocean, have made passengers very wary about their safety.
Lungi airport itself has its problems. Poor management by the airport authority, corruption, lack of investment, poor security, and sub-standard airport service have transformed Lungi into one of the worst airports in the West African region.
But it is the lack of a convenient and safe means of travelling from Lungi airport to mainland Freetown that is most concerning to those travelling in and out of the country via Lungi airport.
Today’s announcement by the Westminster Group that it will be relaunching its luxurious ferry service in Freetown this week has been very much welcomed.
According to Proactive Investors UK, the company has told investors that its ferry service is now set to resume in Sierra Leone.
The group’s subsidiary Sovereign Ferries has now completed registration formalities, sea trials and international safety compliance checks, Westminster said.
It added that, following a successful trial using two air-conditioned coaches, the group can now transport passengers to and from the airport and ferry terminal.
“The much needed and long awaited ferry service, providing a fast, safe and professional ferry service between the airport and the capital, Freetown, is due to commence on 9 December 2016,” the company said in a statement.
(Photo: One of the dangerous and unseaworthy ferries owned by the government and managed by a Lebanese entrepreneur).
“This service is highly anticipated by not only the government and population but also by the airlines that operate into the country.”
The announcement two weeks ago by KLM that they will be resuming flight to and from Sierra Leone, will no doubt be welcomed by the management of Westminster Group as well as those passengers planning to fly to the country early next year.
Westminster highlighted that marketing and sales initiatives are now ramping up, notably promotional billboard videos are being broadcast at strategic locations in the city.
It is not certain how much the company will charge for a single journey to mainland Freetown, but it will not be cheap.
What is certain though is that those passengers that can afford to use the Westminster ferry service are in for a positive customer experience, safe and comfortable travel across the waters leading to Freetown.
As well as it being a valuable transport service, Westminster said it will be creating much needed local employment. It says more than 60 new jobs are being created.
In due course the company plans to expand its range of services and routes, potentially starting in 2017.