Last week our tale left off in mid-2012 with the Tiare Taporo still in Canada, although an imminent departure for the Cook Islands was expected in September.
But casting back through past editions of CINews it would appear that from June 2012 onwards the vessel dropped largely out of the headlines for almost a full year.
Come June 2013, the Tiare Taporo remained Canada-bound, though mention was made of two Cook Islanders – Corey Fisher and Royle Henry, flying there as deckhands hired to assist with the boat’s departure that same month.
At that time the Tiare Taporo was captained by Sean Bercaw and reports had her arriving in the Cook Islands around August.
Six months after that estimated arrival date, with no further mention of whatever happened to those two deckhands, the ship had somehow become embroiled in what was described as “a dispute” between shareholders of the company that had previously owned the vessel.
“It’s nothing to do with us, but due to maritime law we’ve been dragged into it,” Pacific Schooners Limited (PSL) director Garth Broadhead said at the time.
Intent on getting things moving however, Broadhead said PSL would put up a bond to release the ship, rather than be forced to wait for the courts to resolve the aforementioned dispute.
Acknowledging that the long process of bringing the Tiare Taporo to the Cook Islands had been “frustrating at times”, Broadhead also gave credit to the 23 shareholders funding the project, who he described as “more than accommodating”.
Here we must again jump forward, this time some 18 months ahead to July 2015, when news broke that the Tiare Taporo had already landed her first local contract, despite having not yet actually reached the Cook Islands.
Contracted by government to transport outer islanders home after the 2015 Maeva Nui celebrations, the Tiare Taporo finally departed Canada that same month on July 9, headed for Rarotonga via the Panama Canal and now captained by Kim Smith. A month-long voyage was expected, with the vessel travelling 7500 miles across the globe.
In a piece penned for CINews by Garth Broadhead, the PSL director revealed that the Tiare Taporo project had first been conceived 20 years earlier, based around a plan “to design and build a vessel that will take passengers and cargo over the long distances we have between our islands in a safe, comfortable and reasonably quick, yet affordable fashion”.
“The journey from that point to where we are today has been long, challenging, and with many ups and downs,” he added.
“Suffice to say the 23 shareholders that have funded this project have had extreme patience and faith which we expect will be rewarded over the coming years.”
“Nothing can be better for the islands than a safe, regular and reliable scheduled service.”
Sadly, this worthy ideal would once again be stymied, and despite reaching the Panama Canal by the end of July, parts and equipment issues meant the vessel would eventually remain sitting there for more than two months.
Meanwhile, back home in the Cook Islands, the government faced steady criticism for its decision to engage the services of the Tiare Taporo and its parent company PSL – especially when it emerged that a $200,000 advance payment for the boat’s services had already been made.
“Contract kicks in but boat’s not here”, “Boat delay annoys PM”, “From farce to scandal and back”, blared the August headlines.
Come September, an investigation had been launched into the contract between government and PSL.
Conducted by a Public Expenditure Review Committee, it would eventually find that the government contract “highly favoured a foreign-registered company” and that PSL was “paid far too much for its intended services”.
Supporters of PSL’s mission, if not precisely its execution, remained steadfast however.
“Whatever the outcome of the Tiare Taporo saga, we should keep in mind that one government after the other has subsidised inter-island shipping for decades,” wrote a CINews smoke signaller. “The ship should be given a chance to prove itself, in any case.”
By early October the government had been repaid its $200,000, but the Tiare Taporo was still stuck in Panama. It left later that month, finally docking at Avatiu in November 2015, more than four years after the mid-2011 arrival date first proffered way back in 2010 and some three months late for the fulfilment of its Te Maeva Nui contract.
Now that it was safely ensconced within the confines of Avatiu Harbour, its 7500-mile journey from Canada behind it, you might think that things would start looking up for the Tiare Taporo. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.
Barely more than a month after its arrival home, the vessel found itself facing the possible threat of being towed out to sea ahead of the 2015-2016 cyclone season.
Immobile since arriving due to a lack of vital engine parts, the Tiare Taporo had earlier prevented a container ship from berthing and eventually had to be moved via the Ports Authority tugboat.
Lawyers were then called in to work on getting PSL to sign a liability indemnity agreement providing the Ports Authority with some protection “should the vessel damage Avatiu wharf”.
Hackles were also raised when it was revealed that mooring fees for PSL had been waived “in anticipation of the company being granted a domestic shipping licence”, saving PSL many thousands of dollars.
The headlines weren’t all bad however. Well-known Rarotonga carver and artist Mike Tavioni defended PSL during a lengthy interview with CINews in January 2016.
Tavioni said he was tired of people criticising the struggling venture without thinking about what a fully-functioning Tiare Taporo could offer the country in terms of delivering cargo to the outer islands and offering options for tourists.
“The people and families who invested in the boat sacrificed a lot, and the only option for them is to make it work,” he said.
Quoting his friend, captain Kim Smith, Tavioni said the boat was built to Lloyds of London specifications.
“Every piece of steel and every piece of equipment needed three certificates of inspection and it cost about $9 million to build”.
“It came here under stress because of a shortage of money and they had to obtain over 20 different clearance certificates in order for the boat to get here,” Tavioni continued.
“I had never thought about that boat going through the ocean for such a long distance and having to meet the cost of satisfying different countries’ requirements and having to pay for those when there is not enough money to go around.”
Next week: The Tiare Taporo finally heads to the northern islands – but it’s not all smooth sailing.