COOK ISLANDS EXPORTERS CRY POLITICS IN SHIP BAN

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By Florence Syme-Buchanan/Jason Brown

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (April 26, 2000 -- Cook Islands News)---The government has given inter-island Nautilus Shipping formal notice: stop sailing in three months.

Official reason? Government has to protect local shipping interests against foreign "fly-by-nighters," according to Ministry of Transport's Joe Caffery.

EXPORTERS

Rumors of the shipping ban have caused an outcry among exporters to the outer islands who say they prefer the Nautilus service.

Some claim the move is political. The only fully local shipping company, Taio Shipping, belongs to Assistant Minister of Transport Tapi Taio.

One source says Taio Shipping has told the Cabinet it is buying a new boat and needs protection to ensure a viable business.

Caffery says it is a simple case of over-tonnage. Local shipping could go "haywire" without protection, with too many boats chasing too little cargo.

SIGNIFICANT

Nautilus Shipping lawyer Brett Gibson denies Caffery's fly-by-night claims.

"These guys bought this boat, with a significant amount of loan finance and facing significant interest rates, just for this route. And it's partly owned by a Cook Islander."

In a meeting with Transport Minister Dr. Robert Woonton and Under Secretary Tapi Taio, Chamber of Commerce officials say government claimed Fetu Tokelau was subsidized by the New Zealand government.

Any suggestions that Fetu Tokelau gets subsidies are mistaken, says Gibson.

Then known as MV Forum Tokelau, says Gibson, the ship was bought by Nautilus Shipping at commercial rates from the Tokelau government, which holds a mortgage on the ship. The Tokelau government then bought another ship from the New Zealand government -- simply called MV Tokelau -- for an "apparently" subsidized cost of $1. This subsidy has nothing to do with the Cook Islands ship, now renamed MV Fetu Tokelau.

EXPANDED

Chamber president Don Beer, Jr. says that government also claimed in the meeting that Nautilus Shipping expanded from servicing the northern group without government approval.

Gibson says this is also mistaken. He says it is true the license was originally only for the northern group. But, last year, Deputy Prime Minister Norman George promoted Nautilus to the rest of the country and a license extension was approved.

"It was to have run out on 31st October in any case."

POSTPONED

Nautilus Shipping is pleased that government has now agreed to postpone the cancellation from one month to three months from now, says Gibson.

Caffery says the cancellation is a "prerogative" of the Minister of Transport.

Beer is concerned that government appears to have rushed into a decision without consulting outer islanders and suppliers. "Government needs to speak to the users of this facility. I really feel for the outer islands, which haven't enjoyed a good shipping service for many years."

Taio could not be contacted by CINews for comment despite calls over the weekend.

CITC manager Robin Bullen says the government is laying itself open to criticism. It would be very disappointing if fair competition is not allowed, he says.

"True market forces will dictate who ends up running a service. The operator that gives the best service at the best price will, at the end of the day, succeed."

Bullen says government's job should be to set shipping standards and see these are maintained. If an operator meets all safety and service requirements, then that operator should be able to run a service without restriction.

BETTER SERVICE

Vicky Vaineritua of Meatco, a major supplier to the outer islands, says they send most of their orders through Nautilus because of the company's efficient schedules.

She says they've discovered goods sent on Fetu Tokelau arrive in better condition. Nautilus does its own stevedoring, saving outer islands importers money. "That's why people are happy -- because they are offering a better service," adds Vaineritua.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

 

COOKS ISLANDS ROW OVER SHIPPING SERVICE

AVARUA, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (April 29, 2000 – Radio Australia)---The Cook Islands government is being accused of halting a shipping service because it competes with a company owned by a parliamentarian of the ruling party.

Opposition leader Sir Geoffrey Henry claims the government is simply protecting the interests of transport undersecretary Tapi Taio.

Mr. Taio’s company competes with Nautilus Shipping, which the government has now told to cease trading within three months.

The government said it is trying to protect local companies from "fly-by-night" foreign operators, but Sir Geoffrey rejects that, saying the decision is purely political.

"What you've got is just pure greed showing its ugly face, so the hand of somebody who owns a shipping company is now in government and in a position to further his own interest.

"They have shown no respect whatsoever for transparency and in this instance they've shown no respect whatsoever for competition," Sir Geoffrey said.

For additional reports from Radio Australia, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia.

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