The new ferry connecting Puerto Rico with the Dominican Republic will carry some 170,000 passengers annually and will boost trade between the two countries, the firm behind the venture said Friday.

The president of Marine Express, Nestor Gonzalez, told Efe that the original figure of 170,000 passengers could be surpassed in the next two or three years.

Gonzalez used the official inauguration of the new line to stress that the ferry, christened the Caribbean Fantasy, will become an essential trade link for the economies of both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

The executive said that close to 350 small and medium-sized companies depend on this maritime bridge operated by Marine Express.

"A lot of business has been developed thanks to our ferry," Gonzalez said.

The president of Marine Express also estimated at $30 million annually the revenues it will bring the tourism industry.

"The start-up of operations of the Caribbean Fantasy will create close to 1,000 new jobs, between direct and indirect," the Puerto Rican businessman said.

As for the kind of people who will use the new service, he recalled that more than 300,000 Dominicans live in Puerto Rico and that they make frequent trips home.

And Puerto Ricans, the businessman said, like what the Dominican Republic has to offer in the way of tourism, particularly the competitive prices of hotels and restaurants.

The Caribbean Fantasy is almost 190 meters (625 feet) long, has a top speed of 42 kph (26 mph) and a capacity for 1,000 passengers in 148 staterooms and 450 seats.

It also has a casino, several bars, a discotheque, jewelry store, duty-free shop, beauty salon and a swimming pool, among other services.

The ferry to Santo Domingo will operate from both San Juan and Mayagüez.