The sound came not just from a drum band on the foredeck of the large vessel, but from another group on the wharf, where a crowd of about 70 people, some sheltered from the hot sun by colourful umbrellas, waited for the ship to dock. Among them was prime minister and Manihiki MP Henry Puna.
They had been waiting for some time – the first boat to dock at around 1pm was the 60 metre Tuvaluan ship Nivaga III, carrying 423 passengers from Rakahanga, Penrhyn, Pukapuka and Nassau, who were treated to an official welcome from Puna, Queen’s Representative Tom Marsters and the MPs for Pukapuka-Nassau and Rakahanga.
However, the welcome for the Manihiki contingent was no less enthusiastic and the blue-t-shirted team on the Tahiti Nui kept up the drum beats as the white ship cautiously entered the tiny harbour. Earlier, the ship was forced to wait offshore for some time, along with the local cargo vessel Layar Mas and the Nivaga III which had both left port to allow plenty of space for the Tahiti Nui to manoeuvre.
With help from the Ports Authority tug Toa, the Tahiti Nui was soon alongside the wharf, with the Manihiki team no doubt thankful to be on dry land for the first time in several days.
Harbour Master John Jessie said the Tahiti Nui had earlier stayed offshore waiting instructions to approach and enter the harbour.
“Nivago III experienced strong easterly swells entering the harbour at 2.5 3.5 knots,” Jessie said. “I made the decision to delay Tahiti Nui entering for the safety of the passengers and the vessel itself, and other vessels around in the harbour.”
Once passengers had disembarked, the Nivago had sailed out to sea to take shelter while the Tahiti Nui made its approached into the harbour, he added.
“Later that evening the swells in Avatiu port had reduced to one knot easterly, and at 5.50pm the Nivago III returned to the harbour and berthed between the Tahiti Nui and the Grinna.”
The Tahiti Nui departed for Tahiti at 10.30 yesterday morning, making room at the wharf for the French Navy boat Bougainville which is here on a diplomatic visit.