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MATA'UTU, Wallis and Futuna (May 16, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---A contract to construct an inter-island ferry to connect the islands of the French territory of Wallis and Futuna and the neighboring Fiji Islands has been awarded to a Dutch company, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The agreement was signed on Sunday with the Dutch shipbuilder Damen.

Earlier, it was expected that the builder would be the New Caledonian company Héros.

"We really wanted this ferry to be built in New Caledonia, but not one bank wanted to support us on this project," the ferry project's legal advisers, André Viviant and Boris Gaveau, said.

"And we didn't have the assurance that the project could be completed (in New Caledonia). This would have meant for Héros to enter into a partnership with another entity. So finally we had to turn to the Dutch builders."

The project will cost an estimated 638 million French Pacific Francs (about US$ 4.7 million), 38 percent of which will come from private investors (under a tax exemption project granted for infrastructure investment in the French territories). The other 62 percent is being loaned by Dutch banks.

The 50-meter (165-foot) ferry will have the capacity to carry 50 passengers and 500 tons of cargo.

The ferry is expected to be delivered during the last quarter of 2002.

Weekly service between Wallis and Futuna and Fiji is planned.

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