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Only half of festival goers allowed on board

By Moana Moeka’a RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, September 2, 2009) - Culture secretary Sonny Williams says that he won’t know who has got onto the Tahiti Nui ferry from Pukapuka, until it arrives in Rarotonga tomorrow morning.

Cook Islands News received three calls since Monday evening - all saying that those bound for the Te Maeva Nui celebrations in Rarotonga refused to get onto the ferry, as only 20 were permitted on board.

[PIR editor’s note: The Te Maeva Nui Festival, which celebrates self-rule and independence from New Zealand with traditional displays and competition held on the island of Rarotonga, is considered the Cook Islands’ most important festival of the year.]

Williams says in fact 40 was the number given for the tere party from Pukapuka but the group did not want to go through the process of deciding who should be left behind.

"I said yesterday [Monday] if you don’t want to get on the boat, that is your call – we have done our bit."

It is understood that up to 20 people boarded from Pukapuka and nearby Nassau – which included MP Vai Peua who is overseeing the harbour project on the island.

"I can’t say anything until the boat gets in on Thursday morning," says Williams.

Criticism by Rakahanga MP Piho Rua against the Prime Minister Jim Marurai, who was in Tahiti last week to negotiate for the ferry charter, is unwarranted, says Williams.

"It is not the prime minister’s fault," says Williams who traveled with Marurai to Tahiti. "We have done our part."

The Cooks negotiated a NZ$400,000 [US$270,000] deal with French Polynesian officials for the charter -- NZ$200,000 [US$135,000] for what was owing from last year’s charter plus the same amount for 2009.

Williams says the figure agreed upon was a big help on the NZ$1.296 million quote which was given to the Cooks when enquiries were made about chartering the Tahiti Nui for this year’s Te Maeva Nui.

"The captain and his crew were given one day warning to drop everything, drop their schedule … and pick up the tere parties."

Williams says going on the ferry’s maximum capacity of 198, it was calculated that each of the four islands would be permitted up to 49 passengers.

This figure, he says, was communicated to the islands of Penrhyn, Manihiki, Rakahanga and Pukapuka-Nassau.

"What has happened out there [at sea] is beyond us. Whether there was pressure put on the captain.

"I’m not sure and I won’t know what has happened until the boat arrives."

According to figures supplied to Cook Islands News, 61 people were picked up from Penrhyn, 50 from Rakahanga, 73 from Manihiki and 20 got on from Pukapuka-Nassau – a total of 204 passengers.

Pukapuka-Nassau island secretary Lewu Katoa could not be contacted yesterday, and Pukapuka community president on Rarotonga, Makirere Poila said that he had no comment to make.

Josh Taio of Taio Shipping said yesterday that they had planned to travel up to Pukapuka, however they had delayed their plans upon hearing of the charter. Taio added that they also need sufficient cargo to make the trip viable.

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