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By Marc Neil-Jones

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 7) – The latest addition to the growing P&O cruise ship fleet visiting Vanuatu, the Pacific Star, arrived in Port Vila on its maiden voyage before returning to Brisbane.

The 200-metre long ship Pacific Star is impressive and offers a staggering range of bars, lounges and restaurants, all benefiting from a recent multi-million dollar refurbishment.

The Pacific Star Captain Graham Goodway hosted a welcome function on board attended by Acting Minister for Tourism and Minister for Health Morkin Steven, political advisors and the Lord Mayor Paul Avock as well as senior members of the tourism industry.

Captain Claes Bjornum, who is the agent for P& O Cruises, advised that 2005 was a record year for the company into Vanuatu and already since the start of this new year four vessels have arrived with a total of 5,700 people on board.

"We estimate that last year the cruise ship visits brought in Vt1.6 billion [US$14.5 million] into the [Vanuatu] economy and most of it went to grass roots people," he said. "This year, P&O Cruises alone has 134 calls into Vanuatu, including 60 into Port Vila. They also visit Luganville, Wala Island, Mystery Island, Champagne Bay, Lamen Bay and Pentecost and we are looking at other potential places for the ships to visit in the future."

Capt. Bjornum advised that calls into Vanuatu may be reduced after May when the cruise ship Pacific Sky is sold as they still have no schedule yet for the replacement vessel Regal Princess but said that other cruise vessels are coming in 2006 and 2007 and they have received enquiries from U.S.-based cruise ships.

However Bjornum warned the government that they must urgently get their act together to sort out concerns raised by P&O over the condition of the main wharf.

"The wharf in Port Vila is in a terrible condition and something must be done urgently or our client will go somewhere else. There are no public toilets, no shelters and enormous and dangerous potholes. We have suggested several solutions to the government, including financing, but as usual there is only talk and no action from the government side.

"We also have problems with some taxi drivers who assault and abuse passengers. I must say that most drivers act correctly, but there are some rotten apples. Assistance from the police over these concerns doesn't exist. We used to have some assistance from the municipality, but that has ceased as well."

The warning will need to be taken seriously by the government as it would be an economic disaster if P&O pulled out as a result of no action by the government.

Minister Morkin Steven said in reply on behalf of the government, "I would like to affirm the government's commitment and recognition of P&O's continued support to Vanuatu tourism and it is the government's plan to continue to upgrade and develop major infrastructure in Port Vila and outer islands for the development of the cruise ship market."

He confirmed that P&O were currently looking at expanding its calls to include Tanna and Gaua.

A gift of a Tam tam was presented to Captain Goodway.

January 9, 2006

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