Pacific Islands Shipping Initiatives
Monday, 09 November 2009

Shipping: The Pacific’s Lifeline

Shipping is the lifeline linking Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) with the outside world, with each other and within their own countries. It is an important means of achieving sustainable development and regional co-operation, thus economic development, trade and maritime transport are inextricably linked.

Most PICTs are net importers of goods and services; however, individually their import volumes do not meet the economic threshold of private shipping companies to profitably provide regular shipping. Thus shipping services are either not regular or not affordable for most small economies of the region. The challenge, however, remains of providing regular and affordable shipping services to many of the region’s island states.

Irregular shipping affecting PICTs

Shipping service or rather the lack of it is affecting PICTs’ sustainability and thus continues to dominate the transport agenda at meetings of the Leaders of Forum islands and small island states (SIS). It is a key priority for the region as reflected annually in the Forum communiqués from 2005 to 2008. In 2006, the Leaders provided definitive decisions on the way forward and SPC tasked RMP to provide high-quality shipping company management and operational advice to PICTs. RMP is to promote more efficient shipping services to sufficiently address the shipping service needs for PICTs, in particular SIS, providing a Pacific solution to a Pacific predicament.

Summary of initiatives by RMP to improve shipping to PICTs

In order to improve shipping to PICTs and in particular SIS, a number of initiatives agreed to by SPC, PIFS, SIS Leaders and the Forum Leaders were implemented:

  1. Building regional maritime capacity: This covers ship management, marine surveys & audits, maritime information systems, maritime law, port & security, maritime administration, business excellence, port operations and supply chain logistics will no doubt contribute to improved shipping in PICTs.
  2. The regional maritime associations: The work being undertaken by the various regional associations includes the Pacific Countries Ports Association reviewing the basis of its fees and charges and the implementation of the business excellence framework will benefit shipping.
  3. In-country transport study: RMP has undertaken a number of in-county transport studies that will contribute to improved shipping in the region.
  4. Commodity mapping & trade Study: To explore the commodities used by SIS with reference to their country of origin, quantity, demand, historical and current route, trade arrangements and trends. By matching those to the major ports in the area and to work out which port(s) would be best suited to collect or consolidate the incoming and outgoing cargoes or commodities. The closer the market the cheaper the transport cost; thus benefitting the consumers.
  5. Regional hub & transhipment ports: Refers to the practice where shipping lines call into one major port within a country or region, rather than at several ports in the same vicinity. It has proven to be an economical and effective means for the transfer of cargo or commodities from its port of origin to its destination. Feeder shipping services then tranship passengers and cargoes from hub ports to neighbouring countries.
  6. Utilising PICT resources: The regional focus on utilising the feeder shipping services to the SIS comprising Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshalls, Wallis & Futuna by the Kiribati Shipping Services Ltd (KSSL); the proposed Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands service by Samoa Shipping Corporation Ltd (SSCL); the utilisation of PICT ship repair facilities and the increased employment of regional seafarers have begun to positively impact shipping in the region.
  7. Purpose-built ship [donor-funded]: The capability and limitation of regional ports should determine the effective size of the ships used. SPC and PIFS were tasked to provide analysis and costing as a long term solution. The purchase of additional containers will also be pursued to further improve on service delivery and cost.
  8. Bulk Fuel Purchase Scheme: The savings accrued through the proposed Bulk Fuel Purchase Scheme will have a positive effect on shipping costs given that fuel forms the major component.
  9. Pacific shipping commissions: In carefully studying shipping patterns in the region, RMP realises the very close collaboration amongst shipping companies render little or no competition to the PICTs resulting in a near cartel environment. Their services are selective being regular to profitable ports and erratic to others. To address this arrangement, shipping commissions along the lines of the Micronesian Shipping Commission model is planned for the central and eastern Pacific region. An important feature of these shipping commissions is the promotion of sufficient or controlled competition so that monopoly is removed but the restricted number of carriers for operations to remain commercially viable maintained. The Central Pacific Shipping Commision (CPSC) will include Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Wallis & Futuna with shipping links through Fiji, while the eastern commission could include Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands through Samoa.
  10. Engagement of a Shipping Adviser by RMP: necessary to accord fulltime attention to improve shipping services in the region.
  11. Maximize cargo on SIS shipping: To explore opportunities to maximize cargo loading on sub-regional shipping by identifying available products for regional exports, develop/facilitate SIS exports and address shortcomings, etc. A full ship load will enable costs to be contained or reduced to the benefit of consumers.

It must be noted that no system is perfect but innovative approaches and a concerted regional effort can provide PICTs with a sound and sustainable framework for developing appropriate shipping services to meet the Pacific region’s need. (Article by Captain John Rounds, SPC RMP)


Last Updated ( Monday, 09 November 2009 )
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