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Regional shipper looking at how to improve service

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 6, 2009) – Pacific Forum Line’s chief executive Captain Sean Bolt says he has been in the Cook Islands this week to gauge whether the shipping company should resume full services to the country, reports Cook Island News.

He said there is no clear solution to the Cook Islands’ shipping problems but PFL is looking at what it can do short term and long term to address them.

There is a board meeting this week at which the Cook’s issue will be raised and Bolt says a decision should be made either way within three weeks. He says he should be visiting again to inform government, who is a shareholder, and importers about the decision.

"Whatever happens — whether we come up with a solution, whether that be another vessel or something else. We will be back anyway."

Bolt and PFL’s NZ sales and marketing commercial and trade manager John Pearson have met with government and local importers over their concerns.

The visit is not only to gauge the feeling among importers about whether PFL should bring back a vessel, but also to gauge the level of support government has for this option.

Bolt said the shipping issues here don’t have a clear solution yet.

"There’s not enough cargo to warrant two vessels," he said.

The Southern Express is now the sole shipper between New Zealand and the Cooks after PFL pulled its service last August. The PFL service to Rarotonga ran at a loss for four years, says Pearson. When fuel and charter prices skyrocketed, the company was left with no choice but to end the service.

Pearson said the reason PFL could initially sustain the service was because other parts of its business were used to prop up the Rarotonga service.

The charter vessels the company uses now are all 125 meters in length and diverting one of these to Rarotonga is impossible because of the port size.

Now PFL’s services consist of three charter services, two out of Australia and one out of New Zealand, all shipping to Fiji, the Samoas and Tonga. They have ‘slot’ charters to Papua New Guinea and the Cooks.

PFL has a contract with Reef Shipping on space for 35 containers on each shipment aboard the Southern Express, but importers are concerned that this is not enough.

Captain Bolt said since this contract began the 35 slots have been full and there has been no problem with getting more than this on the ship at times.

Captain Bolt and Pearson sayall importers really want is security of product to market and more than one shipping service.

Marianas Variety:

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