MNZ aids focus on maritime safety in Tonga

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 40, June 2012

The sinking of Tongan ferry Princess Ashika in 2009 highlighted the real safety issues faced by many small South Pacific nations.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
‘Otuanga’ofa – the newest ferry in Tonga’s interisland fleet.

MNZ’s Principal Maritime Advisor John Mansell has just completed a six-month project that aimed to help address some of these issues in the Kingdom of Tonga.

“The Secretary of Transport in Tonga was relatively new to the role and sent an urgent request for an expert maritime advisor with an understanding of the New Zealand and international regulatory environment to provide advice and help,” says John.

“Under a programme administered by NZ Aid (MFAT), I visited Tonga for one week a month over six months. This enabled regular face-to-face contact and allowed me to form relationships, which was hugely important in a cultural context.”

John also believes that being seen as an ‘official’ working closely with New Zealand government agencies was vital to the success of the project. “It wouldn’t have been possible for an independent consultant to access the same information and feedback, or to put forward cases for assistance from the New Zealand Government.”

While maritime safety issues will continue to need attention in Tonga – and many other Pacific nations – John says his work helped heighten awareness within Tonga’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) of the international obligations Tonga has, as a flag, port and coastal state, and of best national and international regulatory practices.

“The World Bank is currently funding a maritime safety needs assessment to identify what further assistance is needed, and I was able to attend those World Bank meetings on behalf of Tonga’s MOT. One of the most satisfying aspects of the work for me was being able to come up with a strategy for improving the ongoing safe operation of the interisland ferries, which was accepted in principle by the World Bank and Tonga’s MOT.”

John’s proposal was to have the interisland ferries regularly surveyed by New Zealand surveyors to international standards for interisland ferries of less than 500 gross tons, in much the same way that New Zealand’s Civil Aviation Authority inspects aircraft in the region. An important element of the strategy is that Tongan surveyors would be trained and mentored through the survey programme, to develop their capacity to eventually take over the work.

Ongoing assistance will be needed to help Tonga continue to improve its maritime safety record, says John. “They face many difficulties around resourcing, capability and funding and will face continued challenges.”

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