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One-day protest over foreign ferry license

PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Sept. 18, 2009) – All maritime traffic in and out of Tahiti resumed Friday morning after shipowners shut down all ship movements Thursday with a one-day protest against the government's choice for a ferry license connecting Papeete with the Leeward Islands.

The head of a shipowners association announced during a televised telephone interview Thursday night that the group had made its point with Thursday's shut down protest. That show of force halted all passenger, motor vehicle and cargo ship movements to and from Papeete Harbor.

Ethod Rey apologized for inconveniences caused by Thursday's shipping shutdown. Mostly affected were people living on Tahiti's sister island of Moorea who use short ferryboat rides for their daily commutes to work or school in French Polynesia's capital of Papeete.

This forced many Moorea residents to turn to the Air Moorea shuttle flights, which, although quicker, are more expensive and require additional transportation by taxi or bus from the airport into Papeete. Air Moorea reportedly added 13 flights to meet Thursday's passenger demands.

The protest stemmed from the Temaru government's Council of Ministers decision Thursday to award a Leeward Islands ferry license to a foreign-led consortium over a local company. The shipowners began what they initially described as "an unlimited strike".But after meeting Thursday night with the Temaru government's air and maritime minister they decided they had demonstrated their dissatisfaction and would no longer penalize people on Moorea who use their ferryboat services.

However, the shipowners said they remain opposed to the government's decision to award the license for the foreign-led King Tamatoa ferryboat consortium instead of to the local company Raromatai Ferry. They said they would explore legal avenues in an attempt to obtain a reversal of the government's decision.

The King Tamatoa boat is to halt a service between southern France and the island of Corsica and head for Tahiti to begin a new passenger, motor vehicle and cargo service early next year.

The Raromatai Ferry proposal called for building a ship to carry passengers but no cargo, a project that was expected to take three years.

Despite the risk of dividing his majority in the 57-seat French Polynesia Assembly, French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru stood steadfastly behind what he described as a unanimous decision by his Council of Ministers.

Speaking of the King Tamatoa project, Temaru said, "The proposal is a good proposal and I'm not going to reverse my decision. The government chose the solution that all of the people of the Leeward Islands have been waiting for for years."

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