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Proposed inter-islands vessel could also connect with Fiji

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, June 17, 2008) - MATA’UTU - A ferry to provide more regular links between the French Pacific neighbor islands of Wallis and Futuna is currently in the financing phase with a request well-advanced with the French government.

Local Wallis and Futuna representatives submitted the project in May during a visit in Paris, where they met newly-appointed State Secretary for Overseas, Yves Jégo.

It is now being considered and could be given the go-ahead, subject to a tax exemption to be endorsed by the French ministry of finance.

The project, as it is currently described, would take the shape of an inter-island vessel that would provide container-carrying facilities and passenger transport featuring sleeping cabins.

It could also offer a link with Fiji.

"We have asked for a freight-passenger rotation for a frequency of at least three to four times a week. After this, the frequency will be ultimately be determined by the business plan," French Prefect and Administrator Superior for Wallis and Futuna, Richard Didier, told local television RFO.

A second-hand vessel currently for sale is said to have been already pre-identified.

If the project goes ahead, it would first be launched for a minimum duration of five years with the French support.

"The purpose is to enable Futuna islanders to travel to Wallis for much cheaper. This is of particular interest to Futuna children undergoing their studies in secondary education establishments on Wallis. They will be able to go back home more quickly, instead of having to wait for the next available transport," Didier added.

The only link between Wallis and Futuna, to date, was a Twin Otter plane that had also encountered numerous technical faults and break-downs in the past few years.

Another project underway is a request from local authorities for the means to purchase a second plane, possibly another Twin Otter, to service the link between the two islands and relieve the pressure on the first plane.

Wallis and Futuna’s representative at the French National Assembly (Lower house) Albert Likuvalu said at the weekend no response has yet been forthcoming from the French government, but more could be announced in a few weeks when Jégo travels to the French Pacific islands.

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