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Working to improve Pacific maritime safety

A joint-agency programme aimed at improving maritime safety in the Pacific provided a purpose-built response boat for the Kiribati Police Maritime Unit in November.
Boat For Kiribati Police
Maritime NZ
The 8.2 metre purpose-built response boat undergoing sea trials.

The Government’s Pacific Maritime Safety Programme is administered by New Zealand Aid with support from MNZ. It aims to deliver safety initiatives in Kiribati, Tonga and the Cook Islands, as well as looking to add to the quality of navigational charts across the Pacific.

MNZ’s Pacific Shipping Safety Advisor Tony Parr said the programme came about after a series of serious maritime accidents in the Pacific. These include the 2009 sinking of the Kiribati ferry Uean Te Raoi II, with the loss of 33 lives, and the sinking just one month later of the ferry Princess Ashika in Tonga, with 74 lost at sea.

Tony said the programme takes a broad approach. Initiatives range from education and support through to providing practical assets that will help Pacific governments improve maritime safety in their regions.

The decision to provide a first response vessel for the Kiribati Maritime Police Unit was made to meet a genuine need for search and rescue support.

“The police unit had very few resources to respond to search and rescue incidents,” said Tony.

“The staple diet for most of the islanders is imported rice and fish caught in the local sea area, but there is competition with commercial operations for the catch and the artisanal fishermen need to go further and further afield to catch fish. Many have been lost at sea.”

When local resources are unable to locate missing fishermen, they often call upon RCCNZ for support and the Royal New Zealand Air Force regularly sends P3K Orion aircraft over to help local search and rescue teams.

“Providing an asset that will improve local capability will save lives. In addition, it will reduce the need for New Zealand to provide airborne support from here,” said Tony.

Gisborne-based White Pointer Boats was awarded the contract to build the fast response boat. The boat is surveyed to New Zealand safety standards for open water and fitted out to Coastguard specifications for search and rescue vessels. The 8.2 metre boat is capable of carrying up to nine passengers.

Tony said it was satisfying to be involved in a programme that delivered such tangible results. “There is no question that Kiribati’s capability to respond to missing persons at sea is significantly improved,” he said.

Other programme initiatives include:

  • renewing and establishing a number of aids to navigation on the island of Tarawa and the atolls to the north and south of it
  • providing a VHF repeater network for the Tarawa sea area
  • providing directional cell phone antenna to improve coverage over the sea area south of Tarawa
  • running a maritime safety public awareness campaign in partnership with Kiribati government departments. Each of these projects is expected to completed by July 2015.

Each of these projects is expected to completed by July 2015.