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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (October 25, 2001 - PINA Nius Online)---Now that the luxury expedition boat Melanesian Discoverer is staying in Papua New Guinea, Melanesian Tourist Services managing director Sir Peter Barter has announced plans for expansion.

The company will look for another smaller vessel to provide dive and cultural cruises in the Papua New Guinea islands, he said. This would complement the company's cruises up the Sepik River and as far as the Trobriand Islands by the 42-passenger MTS Melanesian Discoverer.

Sir Peter said that while the rest of the world was suffering from the terrorism crisis, the South Pacific remains relatively safe. It was perhaps time to sell Papua New Guinea as the "safe" Pacific, he said.

He said that though it had originally been a difficult decision to sell the MTS Melanesian Discoverer, he felt at the time it was necessary to replace the ship with smaller vessels.

However, in five months of searching throughout Asia and the Pacific, Sir Peter said he could not find a comparable ship to match the caliber and precise navigational abilities of the MTS Discoverer. To build a new ship would be time consuming and cost in excess of US$10 million, he said.

Meanwhile, the intending purchaser of MTS Melanesian Discoverer had run into problems because of the terrorism crisis. Negotiations with all the parties involved had led to the MTS Melanesian Discoverer not being sold and continuing to operate from the growing tourism center of Madang, in the north.

Sir Peter said the MTS Discoverer will now travel to Australia next month to undergo an annual survey and minor refurbishing. It will return to Port Moresby during the first week of December to provide a venue for various Christmas functions.

A special eight-night cruise will depart on Friday, December 21st, for Christmas in the Trobriand Islands. Cruising would continue over New Years to the Sepik River.

Sir Peter said Melanesian Tourist Services recognizes the dual function of the ship, both as an important national facility to attract tourists, as well as a vehicle for sustainable income of the local people. "I have no doubt the sale of the vessel would have created hardship for parents in paying school fees in 2002," he said.

Sir Peter said Melanesian Tourist Services’ own non-profit fund, the "Melanesian Foundation," also contributes educational and medical assistance, primarily via the MTS Melanesian Discoverer and passenger donations.

The decision to retain the ship in Papua New Guinea has been welcomed by Papua New Guinea’s national airline, Air Niugini, and tour operators in North America and Europe.

Sir Peter said that had the sale have gone through, the group from Discovery Tours of New York, which recently left the vessel in Madang, was to have been the last.

MTS Melanesian Discoverer amenities include two observation decks, helipad, dining room, bar/lounge, jet boat and zodiac tenders, library and dive gear.

Its 21 passenger cabins feature full picture windows, air conditioning, private baths, lower-berth beds, video monitors and writing tables.

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