However, the inspectors and surveyors who went on the voyage aren’t saying anything yet about the future fate of the vessel.
As they stepped off the boat ramp at Avatiu, they said they could not yet comment formally on the situation.
They did say, however, that they had completed their report for Federal Pacific Insurance Ltd. and would work with Taio Shipping on the best way to make progress with sorting out the situation.
After that there are two main options,” said one of the inspectors: “Either drag the ship off the reef (and tow it) to Samoa or sink her.”
Said Tapi Taio of Taio Shipping: “The Moana Nui is in the hands of the insurance company now. They are working on their reports and we will leave it to them to decide what to do and decide on the salvage plan.”
A call to with Federal Pacific Insurance Ltd late last week confirmed the company is still working out a deal with Tapi Taio Shipping and will release an update once a plan is in place for salvaging the Moana Nui.
One of the main concerns in any attempt to salvage the ship was draining diesel fuel from the Moana Nui without damaging the marine environment.
Taio said 18 tonnes of diesel fuel were siphoned off the ship, put into drums, and returned to Rarotonga on the Lady Moana. According to officials on Nassau, all cargo had been offloaded.
Taio added that a group of local men were working on fixing a hole in the deck that had opened up when the boat hit the reef and the boom shaft went through.
“The men in Nassau are helping to fix, clean up, and look after the boat,” said Taio.
“Everyone has worked together as a community.”
According to Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society leaving the Moana Nui on the reef long-term is likely to cause environmental damage.
So far, the biggest loss has been the promise of improved shipping services to the Northern Group.
Pacific Schooners Ltd., owner of the Tiare Taporo, appears to be in dire financial straits and the ship, which was purchased in Canada, may not sail again.
And the KWAI cargo sailing vessel no longer calls at Rarotonga. The ship’s owner Brad Ives, said the KWAI now sails from Hawaii to Kiribati and directly to the Northern Group – a route that has proven more economical than calling at Rarotonga.
Ive’s said he did not want to compete with Taio Shipping or Pacific Schooners Ltd.
Taio Shipping has long advocated for government subsidies for passenger and cargo shipping. The lack of reliable economical Northern Group cargo services is a decades long problem with promised solutions sinking along with the Moana Nui.
Another challenge is that Taio Shipping’s remaining two boats are built for cargo rather than passenger services.
The boats have limited space and passengers are forced to sit or sometimes stand for days on top of the cargo hold. The tarpaulin covering the cargo hold often leaks in heavy rain. The vessels’ septic tanks have been known to overflow and there is not always enough safety gear.
One inspector who was on the voyage to Nassau and who did not want to be named said, “I have no desire to repeat the experience of travelling on a cargo boat for two weeks in rough conditions.
“With 30 of us huddled atop the cargo hold and under the leaking tarpaulin in the rain, it was basically a refugee boat.”
The cost of sailing to the Northern Group is also high, at $1000 one way.
Over the decades, different ideas have been suggested to solve the Northern Group transport problem. Suggestions have included: the purchase of a government-owned boat, government subsidies for current shipping services, the purchase of a Northern group-owned boat, opening shipping and flight services to Samoa, and using the more environmentally-friendly sailing vakas to transport passengers. So far nothing has happened.
The flipside of having limited cargo and passenger services to the Northern Group is that people still live off the land rather than relying on “boat food.”
The other benefit is that tourists take the trip north and many Northern Group islanders are not interested in having them come as they enjoy the “peace and quiet.”
In the last five years Pukapuka has hosted only one tourist—a young backpacker from Denmark. The limited visitors mean culture, language, and communal village practices largely remain intact.
The challenge is that families want the option of being able to go back and forth to Rarotonga, and that education and health services can suffer.
The lack of reliable and affordable cargo and passenger options for the Northern Group is both a boon and a bane of life in the outer islands.
Josh Taio of Taio Shipping did not see much change.
“Well,” he said, “we are back to where we started, with two boats providing all the shipping services for the Pa Enua.”
- Amelia Borofsky