Jul 21, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

Search for the perfect ship

Low carbon, cost-effective

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on sustainable sea transportation for the Pacific. We talk to the experts, turn to the past and explore ideas and designs for answers to the future of inter-island shipping, the key to our trade and lifeline of island economies.

WHENEVER the SV Kwai appears on the horizon,islanders of the remote atolls from Hawaii, Kiribati’s Line Islands, and the Cook Islands celebrate a much-anticipated meeting at the waterfront.

This is their lifeline to the world, bringing much-needed supplies and and engaging them in trade. Without this, the the islanders’ ability to purchase stores brought from Hawai’i and carried on the inter-island freighter is severely limited.

Built in 1950 and owned by Island Ventures Ltd, which operates under a business model that recognises the need for trade for the survival of these people. it makes up to four trips a year and does charters in between.

Over the years the former fishing boat was converted and retrofitted with soft sails, the wheelhouse moved to allow for a mizzen mast, giving it the potential for further savings from additional voyages. Profits from the voyages paid for the conversions. 

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Tuvalu a trailblazer

In April 2009, 24 crew members of MV Hansa Stavanger, a German container ship, were captured by heavily armed Somali pirates. Unarmed and no match for the pirates the sailors were held in captivity for four months with a ransom of US$15 million demanded for their release. However, four months later, they were released after the ship’s owners agreed to pay US$2.75 million. Amongst the crew traumatised by the experience were 12 Tuvaluan sailors and a Fijian.

Islands Business managed to interview them in 2009 upon their release and arrival in Fiji before heading to Tuvalu. Most of the sailors interviewed relived how swift the pirates carried out the attack and subdued any efforts of retaliation within a short period of time. A year later, the Conventionon Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCWS) undergoes an amendment relooking at security standards.

The convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Fast forward to July this year, the Tuvalu Government, assisted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, became the first Pacific Islands nation to pass the amended legislation addressing the 2010 amendments to STCWS Convention which was first enacted in 1978. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), with funding assistance from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), assisted the Tuvalu Government in updating this legislation. Tuvalu is the only country in the Pacific region that has legislation reflective of the 2010 STCWS amendments.

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An innovative maritime project is improving the safety and efficiency of domestic maritime services, spurring rural development in Solomon Islands and it is shaping up to be a model for similar projects in the Pacific region as Sally Shute-Trembath* reports.

It is 7:30 p.m. and Point Cruz Wharf is surrounded by a sea of people carrying building materials, bags of clothes, and canned goods, waiting to board the M.V. Invader II, a ship bound for Avu Avu on the southern side of Guadalcanal—the main island of the Solomon Islands. “If the weather is kind, it will take four days to get to Avu Avu Port, with eight stops along the way,” says Robert Smith Koveke, captain of the M.V. Invader II. Avu Avu is remote, and the route would not be financially viable without government help—financed in part by a grant from ADB (Asian Development Bank). For passenger Jim Kalia—a frequent traveller on the Invader II, and a science teacher at Avu Avu Secondary School—the new shipping service means considerable financial savings. He used to fly to Honiara, the capital, to go to the market, do his banking, or see a doctor, but the airfare cost $SB800 ($110)—four times the price of the boat fare.

Bringing remote communities together: The country’s nearly 1,000 islands have always had trouble staying physically connected with the capital, Honiara, especially the outer islands. This has left many of the country’s remote islands with limited access to goods, social services, or markets for their produce.

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The tragic stories behind the shipping disaster

The Rabaul Queen was a vessel doomed to die. When it finally turned turtle, it took more than 200 people—mostly children and students —down with it, mostly trapped in overcrowded cabins, down to the 3,000-metre depths where it now lies. Its story and that of the ships that sail between Papua New Guinea’s hundreds of islands, tell much about the sorry state of the nation—of bright hopes dashed, of good intentions and poor implementation, of apparent venality.

But the openness and persistence of the inquiry into the sinking also hint at the possibility—held out yet again by the elections this month—of better prospects for the battered country of 7 million. Dozens of survivors and others affected by the tragedy have been testifying at a dramatic and horrifying commission of inquiry—chaired by Australian judge Warwick Andrew—into Papua New Guinea’s worst peace time disaster, except for earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Rabaul Queen, buffeted by heavy seas and high winds, capsized and sank shortly after 5am on February 2, 17 kilometres off Finschhafen in the Morobe province, near Lae. The number who drowned is still not precisely known, because the total number of passengers on the boat remains uncertain—but those already certified, place the disaster as even worse in such terms than Australia’s bush fires in Victoria on Black Saturday in 2009, and the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, last year. Children under three did not need tickets, so it remains difficult to be certain about how many such children drowned.

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Priority goes to companies investing locally

The region’s leading tuna management control authority in the Pacific believes the latest move by the Solomon Islands to give priority to fishing companies that invest in the country would influence investment and offer more employment for locals. Director of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Secretariat Dr Transform Aqorau lauded the Solomon Islands’ new longline licensing policy. With the new policy, an extra 500 jobs will be created in Noro as the licences will enable Soltai to increase its production of tuna products. Terms of the licences require that fish caught in the Solomon Islands’ EEZ should be unloaded and processed in Solomon Islands, thereby increasing employment through processing and handling of the fish. Fish landed in Solomon Islands will be exported thereby substantially increasing the country’s foreign exchange earnings and improving its balance of payments. The new licensing policy also allows for boats to unload their Solomon Islands catch outside of Solomon Islands in 2012, subject to payment by the fishing boat of a penalty. Not only will this fish not be available for processing in Solomon Islands, it will not be available for inspection by officials from Solomon Islands Ministry of Fishing and Marine Resources who are responsible for surveillance of the fishery and control of the catch.

Part of the rationale for the change in policy was to increase the effectiveness of Solomon Islands control of their fisheries. It is expected that boats which maximise their Solomon Islands landings will have priority in future licensing periods. Tri Marine’s National Fisheries Developments Limited has been granted 50 longline licenses in support of Soltai’s processing requirements. Soltai and NFD currently employ over 1,000 Solomon Islanders. The new licensing policy will allow Soltai to add a second shift to its processing operations, resulting in approximately 500 new jobs, and a significant increase in its exports of processed fish.

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