I have just returned from the very successful launch of the new Sovereign Ferries’ Flagship Vessel, the Sierra Queen, named in honour of Sierra Leone, at the impressive Lagoonda complex at Aberdeen, Freetown.
The event was well attended by around 200 guests including Sierra Leone’s Vice President, Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh; Her Excellency The First Lady, Madam Sia Nyama Koroma; Ministers of Government; members of the Diplomatic & Consular Corps; business leaders and numerous other distinguished guests. I would like to summarise the generous words of the speakers which are a testament to the efforts and achievements of Westminster’s staff and which additionally demonstrate the appreciation of the region’s ruling figures.
Deputising for His Excellency President Earnest Bai Koroma, Vice President Foh said the event was a major step forward for the country’s transportation network and praised Westminster for their resolute support and the remarkable achievements their aviation security division has made in providing security at the airport and he hoped this new venture would be equally successful.
The Hon. Minister of Transport & Aviation, Leonard Balogun Koroma chaired the event and spoke eloquently of the government’s vision to create safe, reliable and effective airport transfer services to and from the country’s international airport in Lungi and stated that Westminster’s professionalism, quality of service and efficiency had set the standards others should strive for. He thanked the company for showing belief and commitment to Sierra Leone by investing in the country and he hoped other investors would be looking to follow suit now that the Ebola crisis was abating.
Other speakers at the event included His Excellency Peter West, the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone; and Westminster’s Group Chairman Lt Col. Sir Malcolm Ross GCVO, OBE.
I was privileged to represent all of our employees, both in-country and in the UK, who have shown their commitment to the region in testing times. My speech gave me an opportunity to emphasise our commitment to the success of the project and the region.
Following the speeches the formal naming ceremony was conducted in great maritime tradition by Her Excellency The First Lady who cut the ribbon and christened the vessel with Champagne and the immortal words “I name this vessel Sierra Queen and bless her and all who sail in her”. Blessings were then given by leaders of the Christian and Muslim faiths.
We have transformed the airport security operations since we were awarded the contract in 2012 into what is now widely recognised as one of, if not the, best airport security operations in Africa. We intend for the ferry service to revolutionise the local transport links in the same fashion.
Our actions demonstrate our intent more than any words can. Westminster maintained full employment for all of its local employees and kept all of its operations intact during the Ebola crisis, as well as supporting the local community through its charitable arm the Westminster Group Foundation which has assisted with equipment, clothing, water purification and school equipment. One notable memory to take away from the ceremony was the unanimous acknowledgment of Westminster’s support for the region.
Our vision for this ferry operation goes well beyond the initial airport ferry service. We intend that the Sierra Queen should only be the first in what will be a growing fleet of vessels not only providing a fast, efficient and safe crossing between Freetown and Lungi but also a water taxi service to different landing stations around Freetown providing a fast transit service to avoid traffic congestion. Westminster has ambitions to open up new routes and services around the coast and to neighbouring countries.
The event was a great success and a fitting start for what will be a premier transport service for Sierra Leone. There is considerable interest and excitement regarding our new ferry service and our new flagship vessel from the public and business world alike as well as from airlines, hotels and travel agents. Before commencing full operations the Sierra Queen will be conducting trials and commissioning tests over the next couple of weeks and commencement dates, route information and tariffs will be displayed on the new Sovereign Ferries website at www.sovereign-ferries.com.
It goes without saying that we are very excited about the ferry coming on service and the additional benefit that this will have on our existing airport operations. There is real excitement in the team in Sierra Leone.