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APIA, Samoa (August 23, 2000 - Islands Business Magazine/PINA Nius Online)---After 25 years of life the fully government-owned Samoa Shipping Corporation has just made an important change of course. For 1999 it has reported a record ST$ 2 million profit and announced a ST$ 250,000 dividend for the owner (Note: ST$ 3.338 = US$ 1.00).

The year was the corporation's fifth consecutive profitable year after 20 years of reddish results and a formerly unhappy reputation for inefficiency.

All that is past history, says accountant Oloialii Koki Tuala, who left the local Coopers and Lybrand branch to join the corporation in 1991. He became general manager in September 1998.

Last February the corporation bought 100 percent of the shareholdings of an Apia engineering outfit, Bruggers Industries. This was so as to expand the capability of its own marine engineering shop and begin servicing local fishing boats, foreign cargo ships, and yachts as well as engaging in the local general engineering business.

But the corporation's first objective is running five ships, of which four are leased from the government. These include the $US 12 million, 46.5-meter (153.45-foot) and 993 g.r.t. Lady Naomi, which arrived in December 1998 as a Japanese aid gift.

The Lady Naomi runs weekly between Apia and the American Samoan capital of Pago Pago. Although she can carry 220 passengers, including 116 in berths, it is a good idea to book well ahead for the six and a half hour one-way trip on her.

"We often have 30 passengers on stand-by," Tuala says. Gone are the days when ships took aboard more passengers than they were licensed to carry.

Pride: Samoa Shipping Corporation takes great pride in the Lloyd's Certificate of Compliance it obtained in May 1998. This is an achievement it preserves with near fanatical attention to preventative mechanical maintenance, constant crew drills and training, through Samoa Polytechnic's Marine School, to keep Samoa seamen to rigorous new international standards that they must have for jobs on foreign-going ships.

About 100 Samoans are employed by an Italian shipping company. Samoa Shipping Corporation is backing efforts to lift that number toward the numbers of Kiribati and Tuvalu seamen employed by foreign shipping companies, Tuala says.

Samoa Shipping Corporation was one of the first Pacific Islands shipping operators to comply with the International Safety Management Code. Last year, its fleet carried 439,000 passengers between the main islands of Upolu and Savai‘i and nearly 34,000 vehicles. The Apia/Pago Pago services carried nearly 22,000 passengers and 3,240 tons of cargo.

Ships operate occasionally to Tonga, Niue, Fiji and Wallis and Futuna, and regularly to Tokelau and to the American Samoa islands of Manu‘a as well as Pago Pago. "We want to replace older vessels to make the Samoan domestic services stronger and more reliable. Once that is achieved we can open up to go out into the region," Tuala says.

Intention: Another landmark for the company was the establishment last year of a ship replacement fund. The intention is to replace a landing barge with a similar vessel of double the size and replace a passenger vessel, the Tausala Salafai, with a ship similar to the 11-year-old Lady Samoa, but minus the limitations and problems experienced with her.

Samoa Shipping Corporation owns 50 percent of Samoa Shipping Services Ltd. (SSS), the government arm which owned a large container ship leased to the Pacific Forum Line, owned by a consortium of Pacific Islands governments. A replacement for that ship is under construction in China for delivery, also for running by the Pacific Forum Line, in August 2001.

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