Cook Islands Bill to safeguard Manatua Cable passed with fines up to $250,000

A monetary fine will be imposed on anyone who breaches the Manatua Cable Protection Bill 2024 in Cook Islands.

The bill, passed by Cook Islands Parliament last Thursday, safeguards the Manatua One Polynesian Cable from damage near the Aitutaki Airport channel and Rutaki passage in Rarotonga.

The bill’s explanatory note establishes the anchor exclusion zones for the two areas. The zones cover the area that is 50 metres on either side of the cable to the outer edge of each island’s reef and 200 metres on either side of the cable from the outer edge of each island reef until the depth of the sea is at least 200 metres.

The bill states that it is an offence to anchor in either of the anchor exclusion zones. The penalty for both the vessel master and the owner is a fine up to $100,000 (US$61,0000) where the offence is connected to an activity carried out for commercial gain or in other circumstances a fine limited to a maximum of $20,000 (US$12,213).

However, if a cable is damaged whether intentionally, recklessly or negligently, then the owner or master of the vessel involved has to pay a fine of $250,000 (US$152,000).

Prime Minister Mark Brown said the bill is designed for the protection of areas around the cable that comes onto the land from the beach.

Brown explained that passing this bill is a legal condition for obtaining the loan to finance the cable.

“…we are required to put in place a legislation protecting the area around the cable leading from the ocean, onto the reef onto the beach. And it has taken a little while to get through the process,” he said.

“In addition to the legislative protections, there is also physical protection around the cable. And these cables are encased in a steel cover.”

Brown said passing the legislation also enables the cable to be insured.

“We have seen in other countries in Tonga before the volcano eruption, their cable was snapped by a ship’s anchor that dragged across the cable and without the insurance the cost to repair would be high.

“It is good we have in place all these measures to ensure the protection of our cable and allow the cable to be covered for insurance.”

Opposition Leader Tina Browne of the Democratic Party supported the bill saying that she understood it is to protect the cables for Aitutaki at the airport and the other at the Rutaki passage in Rarotonga.

In supporting the bill, Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather said the cable needs to be protected.

“We all know the benefits of this cable from Aitutaki and Rarotonga. I also support the penalties that will be imposed on operators,” he said. The bill comes into force on the day after it is assented to by the King’s Representative.