A tender for a fast-ferry service between Malta and Gozo, worth millions of euro, has been nullified by the Public Contracts Review Board last Friday.
The decision brings a two-year legal battle, instituted by Virtu Ferries, to a close, while the review board has ordered that all bids are re-evaluated by a new evaluation committee.
In its decision last Friday, the review board found that Gozo Channel Company Limited breached public procurement rules when it awarded the contract to Islands Ferry Network. It ordered that a fresh evaluation board be set up by Gozo Channel, without any of the previous members forming part of the new board.
Gozo Channel Company Limited, which is state-owned, was also found to have signed the contract despite being aware of the challenge instituted over the selection process.
The winning company, Islands Ferry Network, is co-owned by Gozitan company Magro Brothers and the owners of the Fortina Hotel. The latter operate Captain Morgan Cruises and the harbour ferries.
The contracts review board stressed that the new evaluation committee must have two members with technical knowledge of the fast-ferry service and must also be aware of maritime regulations.
Gozo Channel Company Limited issued the tender for a fast-ferry service back in 2017, calling for a partner to operate the service between Malta and Gozo on its behalf.
A first evaluation committee recommended Virtu Ferries should be awarded the contract. Virtu has been operating the fast-ferry service between Malta and Sicily for decades.
Gozo Channel instead issued a fresh call and set up a new evaluation committee. This new committee recommended Islands Ferry Network as the best bid out of seven proposals submitted, resulting in Gozo Channel signing a contract with the new company in April 2018.
This prompted Virtu Ferries to set in motion a series of legal actions against Gozo Channel, arguing that Islands Ferry has only been formed a few weeks prior, that it had very little experience in the fast-ferry industry to speak of and lastly, that is failed to obtain the required international certification to operate a high speed craft.