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A Boat for Rotuma
by Henry Enasio
Occasionally I've read that our folks back home have run out of basic commodities--that they are waiting for a boat to arrive from Fiji to bring in sugar, salt, flour, biscuits etc.
The latest Rotuma Council minutes (26 July 2004) highlight the plight of our folks in Rotuma as a consequence of shortages of kerosene and white benzene. We all know what it's like to have a contingency plan, but for our folks back there such a plan will not work properly because of money constraints and unreliable shipping service, so the cycle of shortages keeps recurring.
Thus, I guess it's time that Rotuma reconsiders plans to buy a boat that will service the island in addition to routes previously serviced by the Wairua.
I can still remember the late Senator Wilson Inia's plan for Rotuma to one day own its own boat. Unfortunately, he passed away and did not see his idea come to fruition, but at the height of the RCA a fund was set up to buy a boat (which was the Wairua). For every basket of copra cut, 25 cents was levied to help build up that fund. The Wairua was an old boat that was not durable, but it was viable for a short while before it was sold. Whilst in operation, commodity shortages were unheard of in Rotuma; hence, this may be an opportune time to revisit the issue again and to prioritise Rotuma’s needs.
Rotuma is much more impacted by it's isolation than are most other islands in Fiji. The schools, hospital, and roads are among the many needs, and although funds may be available, without a boat to bring needed commodities, the money won't mean very much. Government boats have been very unreliable to say the least, and have a history of letting down our folks back home.
Itu'muta and Losa have taken a giant step toward raising funds to buy a boat. The leaders, organisers, and people who have supported the project must be congratulated for their foresight and perseverance in trying to raise $100K in the face of adversity and discouragement.
It's time we rally together to support these good folks, for when the project is completed it will benefit the whole of Rotuma. I believe that fund-raising is currently taking place in many places, even here in Sydney.
Four very capable men are behind the project. Three of them have run shipping businesses, namely Sukamanu Pene, Capt. Victor Fatiaki, and Capt. Voi Fimone. The other is Capt. Fuata Jione, who has a lot of international experience. All of them hail from Itu'muta. So such a venture will not be an issue to these men provided the people of Itu'muta and Losa give them their support and blessings.
Submitted 14 August 2004
My family and I were privileged to be invited by cousin Pat Faktaufon who is the current head of the Motusa Community in Suva to watch the Motusa a'ran maka followed by a huge feast at the old Marist Brothers Primary School at Vatuwaqa. The tautoga was very beautiful and a sight to behold; I believe that the Motusa community in Rotuma will enjoy watching them too.
From there I was able to make arrangements to go early (5.30am) to the wharf the next day and bid farewell to the Motusa Group and the 400 passengers who were travelling to Rotuma for Christmas on the Sinu Ni Wasa. The Motusa Group went to celebrate the fruition of their dream and their hard labour in electrifying Motusa village. They also had an itinerary whilst there, including painting the Fakioag heta, Haroa, and Samoa cemeteries, and I sincerely thank them all for that.
There at the wharf I met and spoke to a lot of the prominent and well-to-do members of our community, including Gagaj Maraf, two of our local Rotuman ministers, Dr Peter Mario, and others. We talked about the Christmas and New Year celebations, fara, etc. and amongst other things business potentials in Rotuma. I was specifically told that Rotuma has huge business potentials. Given this, may I suggest that whatever the venture, the Rotuma Council must be involved. Proposals will be required with detailed studies made of the ramifications with the pros and cons legally checked and discussed. Otherwise the venture could fail for lack of details.
I was also told that besides the Sinu Ni Wasa, which is a big ship with a huge capacity to carry cargo, that there were three other boats that were leaving (or had already left) in the same week to Rotuma. Four boats in one week! This was a lot given the infrequency of boats to Rotuma during the year. I reckon a better coordination of resources in the future will benefit the community a lot.
Furthermore, the scenario I saw highlighted the glaring issue that the Itu’muta District is trying to address; that is to buy a boat. For the betterment of Rotuma and any successful business venture, a boat is a must and a top priority. I believe whatever the venture might be, frequent and regular transport underpins every development in Rotuma. Thus, unless we get this right the shortages experienced in Rotuma will continue to occur. Rotuma desperately needs to own a boat to resolve the current crisis of recurring shortages and energy problems. I'd encourage Gagaj Oseas and his tokos to make an approach now to the Rotuma Council for assistance. For the boat will benefit not only Itu'muta but all of Rotuma. Gagaj Oseas and his tokos can be assisted by very capable men such as Muagrav Elaise, Victor Fatiaki, Kafoa Pene, etc. to do a whiteboard presentation concerning a boat to the Council. For without Rotuma owning a boat, I envisage the same unreliable and infrequent service and a continuation of the same enduring problems and plight.
I agree with what Henry Enasio has stated and will just stress the role of the Rotuma Island Council (RIC). It is the responsibility of the RIC to see to it that getting a boat becomes a reality. What Itu'muta has been doing is the way forward and should get the total support of the RIC. There is an abundance of Rotuman sea captains and sailors.
There is also Rotuma Investment Limited (RIL), which was formed in 2001 with objectives to facilitate investment drives, to create new ventures, and off course, to fundraise. This company is supposed to act as the commercial arm of the RIC [the Company was endorsed by the RIC] in such drives. The RIC should make this a priority because at this moment the RIL doesn’t seem to be operating, or is it? At least it’s efforts do not seem to be very visible.
The RIC comprises the seven chiefs and their matas, the D.O., and other government representatives. My point here is to bring out the issue of community criticism. When the board members of the RIL were trying to obtain submissions about their stance, they were faced with strong criticism from the Rotuman community. Why? Perhaps it is related to the Rotuma Cooperative saga. But if chiefs play their part well to bring the issue forward to be discussed at the three levels of Rotuman society (district, ho’aga, and the family level), then surely there could be a way out of this public disagreement.
Let’s tone down the criticism and support the Rotuma Investment Ltd’s efforts to generate funds for a boat. Let’s support this company and let it roll. That, I believe, is the best way.
Sea transport for Rotuma is much needed and overdue for many years. It presents the only cheap and proper way to transport all kinds of goods and people between Rotuma and mainland Fiji. Throughout the year we hear the same old problem faced by the people of Rotuma much compounded during the festive season when Rotumans from Fiji and overseas travel back home to reunite with families and friends. On December 2004, whilst in Rotuma, I witnessed the arrival of three vessels, only one of which was fully loaded on arrival in Rotuma. Two vessels were government subsidised and one was a charter for the Motusa group.
This project has been one that is close to my heart. However, as I am relocating to Brisbane, Australia, I can only offer assistance by suggesting that various prominent Rotuman figures consider such a project for the future development of Rotuma. I fully understand the path that the people of Itumuta have taken to aggressively raise funds in order to acquire a vessel to service Rotuma. However, it is risky if the issue of competition and government assistance is not addressed, as neither the government nor any privately run ship operator can provide service to Rotuma that is economical unless they combine their resources.
Suggestions for Discussion.
Finally, I am confident that all Rotumans will be prepared to pay higher fares than normally charged now between Rotuma and Fiji for a good and reliable shipping service--one that will make sea transport a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.
Capt Fuata Jione
My name is Alan Peacock. I live in Christchurch, New Zealand where I am married to Aileen, while whose mother is Anne Stonehouse, nee Hoerder. While Anne was born in Fiji she is intensely proud of her Rotuman heritage, as well she should be.
I have been a regular reader of your Rotuman website over the last year or so, and find interesting what is happening in the island, and in Fiji where I regularly visit with work.
Aileen and I have a number of business interests, one of which we helped established last year called Exportnet Ltd. (www.exportnet.co.nz). This is a Procurement Agency that was set up in response to requests that we've been getting on trips to Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu, from locals seeking items that were either not available in their local economy, or were prohibitively priced. In Fiji for instance we've found some building materials that are used in high rise construction that were being purchased locally at FJ$600 per square metre, that we could access for just $67.50 per square metre. Another examples was power drills "On Sale" in Fiji at $599, with $200 off, that were accessible for just $89. Some of the local merchants sure have extreme margins!
Since establishing the company we have quoted on the supply of building materials, industrial machinery, tyres, lawn mowers and scrub cutters, a 50 metre powered barge, cars, vans, trucks and four wheel drives, shipping containers, water filters, plastic water tanks, marine emergency strobe lights, riot shields and many other items. We are a business that works on behalf of our clients and we have a typical margin of only 15% of the vale of goods sourced, so we offer cost effective alternative.
I have been looking at the discussion for your boat with interest. It seems to me, that a lot of figures are being suggested, but no list of specifications for what you are seeking. If they were laid out, then you could get quotations on a suitable vessel, which means you then have a tangible goal. If you wished, I'd be happy to use our company to obtain quotations on a suitable vessel. That way you would have a firm idea of just how much you needed to raise to purchase and run such a craft. From the discussion on the website you obviously have plenty of well skilled and competent captains who would be able to run your proposed boat, but you do need to have a likely craft in mind and a price to aim towards first. I'd like to assist in this, and any other supply issues that you might have.
At this stage I haven't had the privilege of visiting your beautiful island, but my mother-in-law is talking about coming up in June this year and I would appreciate the opportunity to visit Rotuma.
At issue is the proposition: Should Rotumans buy a boat to service Rotuma? In the past I have not publicly commented on this very important issue. However Alan Peacock's recent comments on the web site suggest that there are flaws in this strategy.
What our 'Otou Itu'ta Itu'muta committee established was that the Rotuman community could not rely on outside shipping companies to provide this essential service because the shipping companies that currently service Rotuma have higher priorities, i.e. servicing their home base first and then Rotuma as a commercial afterthought.
The Otou Itu'ta Itu'muta committee strongly supports the proposition that our relatives living on Rotuma will only receive the required level of logistical support when a Rotuman owned and operated boat provides the "service."
Very often we heard from our relatives on the island that there is shortage of essential items on the island. There are two reasons why there is shortage: (1) our people do not have the cash to stock them for a month or more, and (2) the Rotuma route is only serviced once a month. The first reason is hard to solve but the second reason is what we are currently addressing -- to have a boat capable of making at least two trips per month to Rotuma.
The Rotuma route alone is not economically viable, and therefore if we are to acquire a boat, we will be required to look for other shipping routes in Fiji in order to improve the economical viability of this project. The thinking behind this comment is that we should not rely entirely on Government subsidies to improve our financial viability. However, our modeling shows that Government subsidies are required to protect the viability of the project.
The current subsidy is $8,000 per trip per month. I am convinced that in the next award of tenders the Government subsidy for Rotuma route will increase. The current licensee is Kadavu Shipping, which has held the license since 1999. Kadavu Shipping uses the Bulou Ni Ceva to service the route. The Cagi Mai Ba, which is owned by the Ba Provincial Council, is currently servicing Rotuma, due to the unavailability of the Bulou Ni Ceva.
Every three years the Government calls for fresh tenders to service all the uneconomical shipping routes in Fiji i.e. Rotuma, Northern, Central and Southern Lau, Lomai Viti, Kadavu Babaceva, North East Vanua Levu, and Yassawa Malolo. The Fiji Inter-island Maritime Safety Authority (FIMSA) previously managed this franchise scheme. In 2004 the Government formed the Fiji Shipping Corporation, which is now responsible for managing the scheme.
We Rotumans talk a lot on our Web Site about development in Rotuma, i.e. tourism, fishing, agricultural produce etc. but we leave out the two most important issues -- transport and infrastructure. With respect to infrastructure, the wharf at Oinafa is in such a state of disrepair that passenger's safety and the loading/discharging of cargo are now seriously compromised. I wonder whether the OH&S people have checked this out.
Most will agree with me that the best place to build the wharf is at Maka in Itu'muta, where there is deep water. The location is known as Vai heta. To capitalize on this natural harbour the entrance will have to be blasted and dredged and a small course-way built from Pala to the deep water, which is some 300 meters from shore. The wharf will be sheltered throughout the year, passengers could board and disembark safely with comfort, and cargoes can be loaded and discharged efficiently. This situation will enhance the economic efficiency of the model, as port time will be significantly reduced.
Every 3 to 5 years the Government spends about $F0.5 M repairing the wharf at Oinafa and the repairs do not last, because of the exposure of the area to the open sea. I hope that common sense will prevail and that the people of Rotuma and the Council will look at this project seriously in the near future and not throw away taxpayers hard earned money down the drain.
The main reason "Otou Itu' ta Itu'muta" got involved in the boat is because we believe that the priority issue at the moment for the Rotuman people is sea transport from Suva to Rotuma. In addition we have concerns that the major stakeholders do not share this objective as their silence is deafening. Keeping quiet will not solve the problem. Consequently we have started the process with vigorous fund-raisers. The Suva Seven Districts meeting in January 15th 2005, unanimously agreed to leave the boat issue to Itu'muta, but will assist in all future fund raising.
"Otou "Itu'ta Itu'muta" started the boat fund raising campaign last year by organizing two big island nights, one in the Tanoa International Hotel in Nadi in June and another Island Night in the FMF Dome in Suva in December.
I read with interest, Alan Peacock's comments on the boat specifications and financial figures and his willingness to obtain quotations for a suitable vessel. What Alan would not be aware of is the quantum of homework we have undertaken to date. We have formed a company called the Itu'muta Holdings Limited, prepared a financial model and business plan and obtained quotations from S&P brokers in Australia. Obviously, for reasons of commercial confidentiality we cannot disclose our figures, financial model, business plan, or indicative purchase prices for different vessel types, but for persons or corporations willing to become shareholders, or in response to genuine inquiries, a condensed prospectus will be made available. Interested parties can contact the undersigned at any time. Itu'muta Holdings Limited is seeking interested parties who are willing to contribute either through financial or intellectual property assistance.
We are well aware that this is an intensive capital investment and, like all new projects, there is risk, but we are happy to say that this risk is calculated and Itu'muta Holdings Limited feels it is manageable and we are confident that this project will work, provided we have the right people at the helm. This we have.
When deciding what sort of boat is suitable for Rotuma and Fiji we have taken into account the following variables:
Getting a boat that is owned and operated by a Rotuman Company is a dream that we in Itu'muta have had for many years, and I am sure that any other like-minded Rotuman will agree that the number one priority for Rotuma is a boat, which is capable of efficiently (both operationally and financially) servicing Rotuma.
Let's all hold hands together and work as a team so we can improve the welfare of our relatives on the island and assist in the future development of the island by getting our own boat. Such an acquisition will allow the broader Rotuman community to became stakeholders in the future of Rotuma.
Victor Jione Fatiaki
On Sunday, 9 April, at 6:30pm, I accompanied a friend, to see her in-laws off to Rotuma. We left the Narain Jetty at about 12:30pm the next day and were told the boat Cagi Mai Ba left about 7am or so on Monday morning. It was exhausting for this family and a number of other families waiting for their luggage and cargo to be loaded on to the boat. While waiting, some families slept on drums, bags, tarpaulin that was spread on the wharf and in their cars.
Is this an ongoing trend for us Rotumans? Has a formal complaint been lodged to the appropriate authorities? Or do we complain about it and not do anything to address this issue? Do we wait hoping that the person elected for Rotuma addresses this issue? Or are we passive and submissive, and unwilling to meet these challenges?
A few women were overheard saying that they will write swear words on the nomination slips for the election, which is a form of silent protest. However, this form of protest is not constructive and helpful for us in the long run.
My question, is: What can we do about this?
The answer is that we must buy our own boat. There are several ways of doing it.
In my campaign I have suggested that there must be about 1,000 Rotuman families in Fiji. If each family sends a member of their family to Rotuma once a year on the boat, paying a fare of say $150 that adds up to $150,000 each year towards the purchase and operation of the boat, just on fares alone. If that member takes $100 to spend in Rotuma that is another $100,000 for the economy of Rotuma. This is the total Fiji Government 2006 allocation for development in Rotuma and you wonder why our roads and water and the wharf are in the neglected state that they are in. Many Rotumans go to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US and Europe and spend probably $5,000 there. No benefit to Rotuma at all. Why don’t we think “Back to Rotuma for a holiday” and spend only a fraction of that so the money stays there and helps our poor brothers and sisters in Rotuma. Our people talk about tourists going to Rotuma but we don’t think that we should be the tourists. This will also address our concerns about losing our culture and identity. This “Back to Rotuma for a holiday” is one of the messages that I have pushed in my campaign.
The other way is to set up industries in Rotuma that will provide the income to purchase the boat. Up to the late 1960s Burns Philp and Morris Hedstroms ran a very successful boat service and shops supported by the copra industry. We did not rely on the government to provide the boat. There were no shortages. The boats came regularly supplemented by government boats and everything worked fine. We must go back to private industry supporting development and not the government. I believe we must look to the copra industry as the backbone of any development in Rotuma. The technologies are now available to enhance and develop this industry to provide employment in Rotuma and reduce the urban drift. I will be pursuing this irrespective of whether I get elected or not.
It is important that the Rotuman people be informed of what sort of impact this will have on the Rotuma shipping route.
The current system is that all the vessels trading in Fiji are issued with a Coasting Trade Licence, which does not restrict them from going into any new shipping routes.
I made enquiries to the Ministry of Transport regarding the criteria for obtaining a route license. They told me that this is fairly new and they are still working on it. However, here are some of the criteria that I believe will be part of this route licence:
What would be the impact of this Route Licence on Rotuma?
My thoughts on this 'boat issue', it seems to be a favourite topic of discussion, 'brilliant ideas some', though not useful at all because here we are, six years from 2003 and Rotumans are at the mercy of local shipping businesses, their self interests and corporate inept (the current cancelled Westerland trip). These businesses have not prioritised (and they will never do) the needs of Rotuma, a sad situation indeed, a situation Rotumans had a hand in the making, for delaying and postponing and talking and talking yet were not able to unite and commit to forming a company, buy a ship and operate it as a business.
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