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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Feb. 6) — A Micronesian area shipping group plans to step into a cargo service void left by the pullouts of PM&O and Kambara shipping lines.

Bill Keldermans and Jesse Gajdusek of Palau Shipping Company visited Majuro last week to float a proposal for a new shipping service to Majuro and Kwajalein. Majuro Chamber of Commerce officials endorsed the idea for every-14-day-shipping-service from Guam that does not now currently exist.

Keldermans, who is based in Koror, and Gajdusek, who is based in Yap, are in the process of setting up a Micronesian shipping association.

"If we help each other, we’ll all be better off," Keldermans said. He said the recent pullout of the Western Micronesian area by the Japanese shipping line Kambara after 23 years, and the U.S.-based Philippines, Micronesia and Orient line demise after more than 25 years of service, both show the difficulty of depending on shipping firms based outside the region.

Largely because of a lack of cargo ship frequency, Majuro ran out of rice, the main staple food in the country, three times during 2005.

Keldermans said that with [bi-monthly] service out of Guam, this isolated island group wouldn’t have to worry about rice shortages, and importers would not have to stockpile large inventories of merchandise.

The plan is to have the private sector-based Micronesian shipping association step into the void to bump up frequency of shipping to Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands ports as soon as March or April, he said.

Keldermans, Gajdusek and other shipping officials just completed an island hop through the Federated States of Micronesia, and report that businesses there gave them "a very positive response."

But Majuro is critical to making the sub-regional venture economically viable, they said. "The Marshall Islands is critical to the plan," Gajdusek said. "Without the Marshalls, we’d have to rethink the plan," Keldermans said.

They are proposing that Majuro would be serviced every 14 days with direct service from Guam. The FSM states of Pohnpei and Chuuk would also get every-14-day-service but under a separate route, with Kosrae getting service every 28 days — improving on the current 45-day cycle that is causing problems for local importers there.

Keldermans said that he has been meeting with top level Matson officials and flew to Honolulu Friday to discuss a cooperative plan with the Hawaii-based shipping company. Matson currently services Majuro once every 28 days from Hawaii, and also provides direct service to Guam from the U.S. mainland.

Keldermans said the new proposal would be for the Micronesian shipping association-operated container ships to serve Majuro every 14 days from Guam, taking cargo from Matson’s U.S. West Coast to Guam service for delivery into the islands on a stepped-up frequency.

He noted that Palau now gets weekly service out of Guam, and Yap, though it has only a 12,000 population, gets 14-day container service.

February 6, 2006

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