Updated | Virtù denies it is to blame for Ponte Ferries delay in launch of Sicily fast ferry service

Ponte Ferries was due to launch on 8 August but has had to postpone after competing operator Virtù Ferries objected to the company’s use of the Augusta Port • Virtù Ferries denies the claim, insists decision rests with Italian port authorities

Updated at 6:12pm with Virtù Ferries statement

Ponte Ferries has been forced to delay the launch of its fast ferry service to Sicily due to a legal challenge by another competing operator who has objected to the company’s use of the Augusta Port.

“We apologise to our customers first and foremost for the huge disappointment this development will inevitably cause. We know how important their holidays are and are doing everything we can to make it up to them while we work round the clock to resolve this issue,” a spokesperson said.

MaltaToday is informed the challenge was filed by long-time Malta-Sicily ferry operator Virtù Ferries. However, in a statement on Thursday evening, Virtù denied the claims of its commercial rival.

Virtù Ferries is also attempting to get its own concession from the port authorities of Augusta and Catania.

Ponte Ferries said the objector had submitted a contestation at the “eleventh hour” over the use of the berthing area in Augusta that Ponte had applied for last November.

Virtu denies claim

But the claim was denied by Virtù Ferries. "Ponte Ferries have once again had to delay their ferry service, no doubt causing their clients much angst. This time they are seeking to conceal from their responsibility by seeking to shift the blame on Virtu Ferries, alleging that we have made a last-minute legal challenge. Virtu Ferries made no such, or indeed any other, challenge," the company said in a statement.

Virtù said that like its rival it had applied for berthing facilities at the Port of Augusta and the respective applications are yet to be approved.

"Mindful of time required and unlike our competitors we refrained from selling tickets for this route, and we will not sell until such time as our permit is approved. In contrast, our competitors have, since 23 June, been selling tickets to the public in the knowledge that they were not in a position to guarantee the service they were selling," Virtù said.

Ponte chartering aircraft

Ponte said in its statement that it has chartered an aircraft to assist its customers along with a free voucher for car rental. Alternatively, they can claim an instant refund and will, in addition, be given a voucher to use the service for free over the next 12 months.

The offer of chartered flights to those who have reserved tickets will run till 13 August. Customers who have booked trips after this date will be offered a full refund and an additional voucher to travel for free over the next 12 months.

“We will be keeping our customers, and the public informed of developments and are confident that our service will be fully operational within weeks,” the spokesman for Ponte said.

Ponte’s helpline for assistance with bookings, refunds and vouchers is 2799-8989 (e-mail: [email protected]).