Community concerns about a “ra’ui” being placed on Rutaki passage to prevent potential damage to the Manatua Cable are being addressed by the government.
At least five public meetings have been held to look at dedicated legislation, separate from current Acts of Parliament, with the most recent taking place on Tuesday.
Some members of the public have raised concerns that establishment of a ra’ui will restrict fishing and other activities people living in the area have enjoyed over the years.
Avaroa Cable Ltd (ACL) chief executive officer Dr Ranulf Scarbrough said talks about a ra’ui being advocated by the cable company are incorrect.
Scarbrough said it’s their understanding that a ra’ui was proposed by the House of Ariki conference held on August 11, when they were consulted by government on the proposed legislation.
“My understanding is that government is considering legislation to protect submarine cables in Cook Islands waters and is consulting the public on this,” Scarbrough said.
“Government and Crown Law have looked at other approaches around the world and believe that dedicated legislation, for example a separate Act of Parliament, is the best way forward.”
Scarbrough said Avaroa is supportive of protective legislation for cables since they carry telecommunication traffic of critical national importance.
While Deputy Prime Minister Mark Brown hasn’t been briefed on the consultations yet, he said the protective legislation is required for an “insurance policy” to cover any costs or liabilities due to damage on the cable.
“We saw in Tonga recently a ship’s anchor caused their cable to break, costing millions in repair and lost income,” Brown said.
“Our people certainly don’t want to be saddled with any costs as a result of inadvertent damage to our cable. The proposed legislation protects us from that.”
Ranulf Scarbrough said repair costs for damage to submarine cables can be substantial - in some cases as much as $9 million. Under current laws in the Cook Islands, whoever damages infrastructure is legally responsible for remediation.
“ACL believes that preventing such a potentially ruinous financial burden falling upon anyone who might accidentally damage a cable would also be wise,” Scarbrough said.
“An exclusion zone for potentially damaging activities would clearly help reduce this risk.”
International guidelines, set by the International Cable Protection Committee, whose members comprise both governments and cable operators around the world, advocate an exclusion zone of potentially harmful activities around submarine cables of one nautical mile (1850m).
“In order to balance the interests of the cable against other activities, ACL has suggested a cable safeguarding corridor that is 10-20 times narrower than this, a significant compromise.”