Since I participated in a Pacific Islands Forum/IMO Ferry Safety conference in Port Moresby in March 2018, I have been advocating an improvement to Australia and New Zealand’s Pacific island aid programmes. Regular readers of Baird Maritime are well aware of that as I have since written about it several times.
Essentially, what I have proposed is a development of our Pacific Patrol Boat programme, which would give modern ferries and the crew training and maintenance that they require to our neighbouring archipelagic countries.
I regard that as being much more practical than cash, too much of which ends up being spent on Toyotas or in Swiss bank accounts. It would have the added benefit of resulting in much of the money allocated to the programme being spent in Australia.
The need for safer ferries and better trained crews in the Pacific islands was starkly highlighted last week when a Solomon Islands ferry went to sea in the face of Cyclone Harold. While the ship safely made port, 28 of its passengers did not. They were swept overboard during the voyage. The ferry should never have been permitted to depart in the prevailing conditions. This “accident” was just another example of the ferry safety problem prevailing in the islands.
This is the kind of tragedy that should not happen and does not need to happen. Australia, as one of the world’s leading designers, builders and operators of ferries, is a prime source of safer ferries and better-trained crews for the island nations. My proposal would significantly reduce the number of ferry accident fatalities in the region. It would be a win-win for both Australia’s maritime industry and for our Pacific island neighbours.
Last month, I submitted my Pacific Safe Ferry Project proposal to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into Strengthening Australia’s Relationships with Countries in the Pacific Region – Wow! What a mouthful – in the hope of it attracting some interest from government.
This is not my first attempt at promoting the project to government. I have sent my proposal to both the current and previous ministers responsible for Pacific island affairs. From neither did I even receive the courtesy of a reply.
Interestingly, while in Port Moresby, I made similar suggestions to the New Zealand Government. Soon after my return, I received phone and email enquiries from Wellington as to my plan. Impressively, less than two years later the Kiwis have already sent their first “Safe” ferry to Tokelau.
What is holding Australia back? What could be the possible objections to such a simple, cheap and mutually beneficial programme? I trust that the Parliamentary Committee will be more enlightened than the ministers responsible have so far been. New Zealand has shown us the way.