Government will spend $2.5 million on a new cargo ship for the outer islands.
The Cook Islands’ only barge, the 46-metre Layar Mas, is being sold to a buyer from the Bahamas.
The Layar Mas cost Cook Islands Towage about $1.2 million in 2016, and has been a huge help to those living in the outer islands. It also shipped government cargo from Rarotonga for infrastructure work on southern and northern group islands.
Deputy prime minister Mark Brown said the government procurement of a bulk cargo shipping vessel was intended to provide regular, affordable and reliable cargo shipping services between Rarotonga and the Pa Enua.
The vessel, Brown said, would also support the implementation of the government’s planned Pa Enua infrastructure projects over the 2019/20 estimates and forward budget period.
Opposition deputy leader Terepai Maoate Jr questioned who would oversee the operation of this vessel. In essence, whether the government was diversifying into running a shipping line.
The finance minister said the necessity to procure a vessel arose when the government learnt the current barge was on sale.
“It left the government in a quandary as to what we will be able to do,” he said.
“With approximately $18 million worth of outer islands capital projects this year, it is important that we secure the services of appropriate transport to ship materials to the outer islands. “For many, many decades now, our country, our government has chosen to rely on the private sector to provide our shipping services and it’s time for us to change the way we do business. Sometimes we cannot rely on the private sector to carry the capital cost of an investment in a ship which is very difficult to run to make it commercially viable.
“ In the interest of providing efficient services particularly to our outer islands, the government has made a commitment to support the purchase of an appropriate vessel like a barge.”
Brown confirmed they would put the incoming barge up for charter to an appropriate company to manage and run on a professional basis.
“And of course there is a proper process that we must go through to ensure that proper procedures are maintained as to who is hired or chartered to operate the barge service.”
Brown expects the procurement process to start after the passing of the Budget and the purchase to be completed within the next three months.