A new Pacific shipping groups aims for improved safety | Asia Pacific

A new Pacific shipping groups aims for improved safety

A new Pacific shipping groups aims for improved safety

Updated 9 November 2012, 22:01 AEDT

For a tourist, the prospect of taking a ferry between Pacific islands may seem like an idyllic way to spend a day.

But the safety and reliability of ferries in the Pacific is of major concern to locals.

It's also a problem for companies trying to import and export goods.

But there's a move to improve the situation - a new regional group has been formed to improve safety for passengers and make shipping more reliable.

Correspondent: Cathy Harper

Speakers: Papalii Willie Nansen, the Pacific Islands Shipowners Association's chairman; Steve Ballantyne, chief executive, Sea Transport, ferry design company

HARPER: There's been two serious incidents of ferry sinking in the Pacific over the past few years. In 2009 in Tonga, the Princess Ashika sank with the loss of more than 70 lives. In Papua New Guinea last February a ferry called the Rabaul Queen sank, leaving about 160 people dead. It's still not clearly exactly how many died.

A report by Papua New Guinea's government found the ferry was unseaworthy and unsafe, that's a common problem in the Pacific, according to Steve Ballantyne, the Chief Executive of a ferry design company called Sea Transport.

BALLANTYNE: That was a vessel that was basically too short for the run, it was too small for the run. Admittedly it was overloaded with about 80 passengers, but 80 passengers represents about six tonnes, in a vessel of that size it should handled it easily, but it was a small vessel, it was too small for the seas that it was operating in. Some of the stuff that they've got throughout the Pacific is 20, 30 year old vessels and they're basically unreliable, they can't get spare parts for 20 and 30 year old ferries. We're dealing with secondhand rubbish.

HARPER: Apart from concerns about passenger safety, there's also a massive economic cost for the whole Pacific region, because almost all goods are imported and exported by sea. Last week in Fiji's capital Suva, ship owners from around the Pacific met and formed a new body, the Pacific Islands Shipowners Association, dedicated to more reliable shipping.

The Assocation's chairman is Papalii Willie Nansen, who's also the Chief Executive of the Samoa Shipping Corporation.

NANSEN: We hope to achieve the voice of the ship owners because right now there's far too many regulations and it's affecting the safety of vessels within the Pacific region.

HARPER: Steve Ballantyne wants the new Pacific Islands Shipowners Association to lobby for a change to what he calls arbitrary tax benchmarks on vessels, imposed by the International Maritime Organisation.

BALLANTYNE: They set the rules and regulations for the maritime industry globally and they come out with rules and regulations primarily for bigger ships. So when it's transposed down to small ships, it actually becomes really unworkable. The GRT, which is Gross Registered Tonnage, was originally designed as a way of taxing ship owners. Now we believe that's in the South Pacific irrelevant because to get under this if you like benchmark of rules, regulations and costs.

HARPER: So that you're not charged the fee?

BALLANTYNE: Not charged huge fees, that they buy stuff that's under 500 GRT, Gross Registered Tons, and of course they then end up with a vessel that is really too small and unsuitable for the task.

HARPER: And so do you think that the new association will be able to get those rules changed within the IMO?

BALLANTYNE: Well that's an interesting, very interesting question you've put because this has come up several times and usually it's one nation at a time that goes forward to IMO, but unless you've got at least ten nations asking the same question or requesting the same change, it's not considered. But here we have 14 nations that are all singing from the same song sheet.

HARPER: The Pacific Islands Shipowners Association's chairman, Papalii Willie Nansen, believes the group may be able to change International Maritime Organisation rules.

NANSEN: It may take some time but it's not impossible that we should be able to obtain a consensus.

HARPER: How open do you think the IMO will be to changing it? I mean the IMO was involved in the formation of your new group so that would suggest that it's kind of sympathetic doesn't it?

NANSEN: Well indeed, indeed, we had IMO representatives participating in the recent forum and they are very supportive of the issues. We've got a case that we have to justify.

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