Tonga Tourism Operators In Vava'u Hurt By Fuel Shortages

Fuel barges have not arrived in almost a month; bowsers empty

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 15, 2016) – Neiafu bowsers have run out of petrol again today, forcing the Vava’u tourist industry into crisis control at the height of the tourist season, and crippling the local economy. Vava’u has not seen a fuel barge arrive in nearly a month and only a trickle of petrol is getting through in containers on one occasional ferry.

Dozens of vehicles remained queued at an empty petrol station in Neiafu this afternoon, waiting in hope of a whiff of fuel - even after people were told that petrol rations had run out.

There were unconfirmed reports that there was a scuffle breaking out - said to be a church pastor having a fight with one of his parishioners over a canister of fuel.

In Neiafu this afternoon, Lisa Molloy of Café Tropicana in Neiafu said she saw a petrol station surrounded by people. “They’ve told them there’s no fuel and there are still dozens and dozens of people standing around Vaitohi petrol station on the main road out of Neiafu. There were people climbing on the pumps and people pushing people out.

“Everyone’s really concerned, lots of people are desperate and you can’t move cars in the street in that area. He told them hours ago there’s no petrol and they are all still parked out there.”

Haini Vaitohi who manages the Vaitohi Enterpises bowser confirmed the petrol shortage this morning. “We’re allowing people $20 each…nothing more, nothing less…there’s too many people here.”

He said the people were okay and there was no fighting.

Tourism on edge

The fuel crisis has been looming for three weeks as supplies have dwindled to a trickle, and now the tourism industry that has invested heavily in Vava’u is on edge.

President of the Vava’u Tourism Association, Calvin Schumaker, who owns and manages Aquarium Adventures, said today they fear the tourist industry will start shutting down the 2016 season within the next three days if nothing is done.

“With this fuel shortage we are looking at maybe a week and a half at most if we don’t get an adequate fuel amount in here. This place is going to go, we’re basically going to end the tourist season a month and a half early,” he said.

“I have five businesses telling me that within the next three days they are going to have to call in all the people who have booked and tell them to cancel.”

Calvin said the last installment of fuel to all of the bowsers was two weeks ago when some barrels came up from Nuku’alofa on a ferry, but that sold out as soon as it landed, “which has left us here for at least a week and a half without fuel, with no petrol.”

“The ferry just came in last night and one gas station had extra petrol today and it nearly caused several riots out in the street… Cars were lining up with a swarm of about 100 people around the gas tanks with bottles and there was pushing and shoving.”

He said diesel was also running out and a supplier had told them there was only a week left before diesel fuel runs out too.

Collapse

Calvin said the fuel shortage was already affecting all whale watching operators and all outer island resorts because they run off generators, while on the main island it was already affecting taxicab drivers.

“We have five of the 15 taxis already stopped completely and not taking any more people to and from town and it’s also affecting our commerce. A lot of the outer villages can’t bring in produce any more because they don’t have any fuel to get the vegetables [into Neiafu], and in a later stage the government is going to run out of fuel to run all the generators for the power.

“We are going to have a complete collapse of the infrastructure here in Vava’u in I would guess, two weeks,” Calvin said.

Out of fuel

Meanwhile, Kirstie Bowe, Manager at Mounu Island, said they had been on short rations for petrol for weeks now.  “I’ve got enough fuel this morning to get passengers into town … but after that I am out of fuel and I’m not the only one.”

Their small resort is booked solid for the next six weeks.

“At the moment we are about to go into crisis control and what do I do? Do I tell people to cancel their holidays?”

Kirstie said no one in government was responding or giving them any reliable information.

“The container boat doesn’t come into Vava’u any more and we don’t know when it's ever going to come back because nobody will tell us. At the moment we are sending barrels of fuel up on the ferry from Nuku’alofa, which is dangerous because it’s a passenger ferry so it’s a ticking time bomb, basically.”

Kirstie said when there’s no fuel the resort staff cannot get to work, outer island children cannot get to school and if anyone on the outer islands gets sick they can’t reach the hospital in Neiafu.

Ferries out of service

No one knows for sure what has happened to the fuel barge that used to serve Vava’u. The failure of the service is exacerbated by a decline in ferry services.

Calvin Schumaker said Vava’u used to have three ferries running, the MV ‘Otuanga'ofa, the MV Niuvakai and the MV Pulupaki.

“Two of them are completely out of service which leaves us with the smallest, the Niuvakai, which is bringing in everything from food to gas to everything, on top of passengers… So we have the smallest barge bringing in a third of what we usually get on a weekly basis and it’s only coming in once a week. Here in Vava’u we are running low on everything – we’ve had a flour shortage, we’ve had a sugar and milk shortage, but the biggest one now is the fuel shortage.”

Governor

When contacted by Matangi Tonga Online today, the staff at the Office of the Governor of Vava’u said the Governor had made contact with a ministry in  Nuku’alofa early last week about the fuel shortage. Following that, a person at Total Fuel had said that if he could get the people in Vava’u to order fuel from Total they could send a boat off.

According to the Governor's Office, there are five gas stations in Vava’u but when the boat arrived yesterday only one station had ordered fuel from Total that was selling today until it ran out.

Matangi Tonga Magazine
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