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By John Woods

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 3) – A cash-paid charter of the inter-island trading ship Maungaroa by the Survivor television show has been blamed for a fuel and electricity crisis on the island of Mangaia.

Taio Shipping's vessel was this week diverted from its scheduled voyage to Mangaia-with urgent and overdue supplies and fuel so that it could take freight to Survivor's production crew on Aitutaki.

Diesel is in such short supply on Mangaia that power generation has been restricted to four and a half hours a day since Monday this week.

And if the Maungaroa, due back in Rarotonga today from its Aitutaki trip, does not get to Mangaia by Monday, diesel stocks will be exhausted and there will be an electricity blackout.

[PIR editor’s note: Remote Mangaia is the most southerly of the Cook Islands. Aitutaki, among the most visited of the Cook Islands, is an atoll located north of the main island of Rarotonga.]

A spokesman for the prime minister's office said yesterday afternoon they had been assured the ship would get there in time.

Mangaia's fuel shortage has caused alarm over the last 48 hours, with island officials complaining angrily and asking politicians to intervene.

Mangaia Member of Parliament Winton Pickering pleaded with Taio Shipping to dispatch the Maungaroa on Thursday, but was told there was not enough freight booked to justify the trip as a priority over a pre-paid charter to Aitutaki for Survivor.

A Taio Shipping representative said the charter was prepaid in cash and although they wanted to help Mangaia out, they had a business to run and the charter came first.

Both the prime minister's office and Taio on Thursday investigated the option of chartering a fishing boat to take an emergency supply of diesel to Mangaia. Even the new commercial helicopter just arrived in Rarotonga was asked to quote on flying a 44-gallon drum of fuel there.

Survivor's newly-appointed Rarotonga representative, Emile Kairua, who works from an office opened near the airport in the name of Tiare Bay Ltd, said he could not comment on whether Survivor's producers had any interest or sympathy for the plight of Mangaia.

Kairua did not agree that Survivor had a general obligation to answer questions and concerns from the Cook Islands public over the effects of Survivor's operations.

Mangaia's island secretary, Tuaine Tuara, said there had not been a delivery ship for six weeks, and Maungaroa's scheduled voyage (number 258) was expected around 31 May. The service was so erratic and inconsistent that it was a constant problem.

Tuara said the diesel shortage was such that electricity could be generated for just four and a half hours daily. The generator needed 350-400 litres of fuel a day to run for 24 hours.

She said the disruption to schools and the hospital was extremely inconvenient, and now general supplies and foodstuffs like flour were in short supply.

"We're long term customers of the shipping company, yet these Survivor people are only here short term and they seem to be able to buy anything they want," she said. "It's a case of money being more important than people."

A resident who did not want to be named because she works for government said Mangaia, like most outer islands, was plagued by phone, water and gas supply problems, but power rationing was the last straw.

"They will tell you it's a shipping problem but we think it's a money problem, and because it's near the end of the financial year government isn't ordering or paying for adequate supplies," she said.

"A group of us today were having a discussion about the fact that in Raro these kind of troubles make the newspaper and something gets done about it, but outer islands' troubles never get aired publicly because the newspaper just doesn't know, and the result is that nothing positive happens."

OMIA, the office of the minister for outer islands, has distanced itself from the problem.

Spokesman Othaniel Tangianau said OMIA's job was to deal with technical matters and not management problems such as this.

Member of Parliament Pickering, who is due shortly to ship a fleet of heavy machinery including about 15 bulk fuel containers to Mangaia for a resort development and upgrading of the wharf and roading, said scheduled shipping services were always unreliable.

"I don't think there's ever been a ship on time," he said.

June 8, 2006

Cook Islands News: http://www.cinews.co.ck/index.htm

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