Past Governments Neglected Fiji’s Maritime Services: Bainimarama

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PM commissions new landing craft, marking ‘resurgence’ of shipping services

By Maika Bolatiki

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Sun, Feb 20, 2014) - The Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama, has described the services provided to the maritime zone by past governments as "embarrassing".

The Prime Minister made the comment yesterday while commissioning the Government’s new landing craft, Sigavou, at the Government Marine Wharf in Walu Bay, Suva.

"I’m told that the last new vessel acquired by the Government Shipping Service was 29 years ago, in 1984. Frankly, for a maritime nation like ours, this is a huge embarrassment," Commodore Bainimarama said.

"For too long, the GSS has been neglected. But worse, the people whom it is meant to serve have been neglected – the ordinary men and women in our maritime communities who deserved better service delivery but haven’t got it; until now."

The arrival and commissioning of the vessel now marks resurgence in the fortunes of the GSS.

The Sigavou can carry cargo and 20 passengers, and was bought from Malaysia at a cost of US$2.6 million.

This 47-metre, 149-tonne landing craft is ideal for Fiji’s needs – with its two dedicated freezers and a forklift that can transport heavy goods and bring the produce of maritime communities quickly and efficiently to markets on the mainland.

Fish, seaweed, copra, coconut oil, etc are items that maritime communities rely on to earn an income.

The craft will also be able to cart goods from Viti Levu to the islands more readily, conveniently and with the economies of scale at more cost efficient freight rates.

"In less than a year, no fewer than three new vessels are being commissioned to finally end the years of neglect, to finally give ordinary people the level of service they deserve."

He was gratified that his Government was able to do it.

He congratulated the delivery crew led by Captain Pauliasi Vakaloloma for making the 5000 nautical mile journey safely over 26 days.

Captain Vakaloloma said it was an honour bringing home the landing craft.

He said the trip was good. At one stage while sailing through a river, they had to remove the mast to pass under a bridge.

"We put it back after crossing the bridge," Captian Vakaloloma said.

Unlike other Government vessels purchased from overseas, he said the Sigavou was ready to sail as it had complied with the requirements set out in the new Maritime Transport Decree and the Ship Registration Decree.

In April, the Prime Minister will welcome a second landing craft from Malaysia.

It can carry 30 passengers as well as cargo. In January 2015, a third and bigger vessel is expected to arrive, capable of carrying 80 passengers.

The three new ships will add to the current fleet of six. "That means that the economic prospects of the islands these vessels serve will also be transformed. We will finally have workhorses capable of carrying the goods and the people needed to open up these places for further development," the Prime Minister said.

"Things will change for those living in the maritime areas after having been neglected for far too long."

A crew member, Ratu Isireli Laserau from Navakasiga, Bua, said he had been working for GSS for 23 years and sailing the Sigavou home was an honour.

He described the 26-day trip as exciting and would treasure every moment.

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