Improving maritime safety in the Pacific

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 53, July 2018

The Pacific Maritime Safety Programme is continuing to deliver exciting initiatives in the Pacific, including safety workshops for Niuean canoe fishermen.

The New Zealand Aid-funded programme is administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and developed and delivered by Maritime NZ. It supports maritime safety initiatives in Kiribati, Niue, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Cook Islands, Samoa and Tonga.

The Pacific Maritime Safety Programme

The long-term goal of the programme is to ensure that Pacific maritime transport is safe, environmentally-friendly and meets international requirements. It works across five broad areas of maritime safety:

  1. Regulatory capacity – supporting the seven Pacific nations developing or updating their maritime legislation.
  2. Search and rescue and oil pollution response – ensuring plans are in place and providing access to equipment and training.
  3. Operator, navigational and vessel safety improvements – supporting the development of infrastructure required to maintain maritime safety, for example VHF networks.
  4. Community education – supporting the provision of maritime safety education and awareness to communities.
  5. Maritime training schools – supporting maritime training institutions to ensure they meet international training standards.

The seven Pacific nations involved work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to identify the areas they want programme support for.

boat in water
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
The Ai Talai (donated to Fiji through NZ Aid) in action during the emergency response to Cyclone Keni in Fiji in April.

Developing a strong maritime safety culture in Niue

“These workshops are about change,” Niue Chief of Police Tony Edwards told attendees at a two-day safety workshop for canoe fishermen held in May.

“I always like to believe that Niue, being one of the smallest countries in the world, can be a good example to other Pacific countries and we can make change.”

The first change the Chief of Police, and other advocates for maritime safety in Niue, want to see is for all fishermen on the tiny Pacific island to wear lifejackets.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) Director Poi Okesene said it was the first time traditional vaka (canoe) fishers had been the focus of safety workshops and emphasised the importance of wearing lifejackets.

The moral of the story is that the lifejacket saves your life. It happened so fast – I had no time to get my things. Don’t store it, wear it

Niue has a low fatality rate for fishermen but any fatalities have a huge impact on the small population – there are around 80 active vaka fishers and a slightly smaller number that go out in boats.

Around 60 fishers, aged between 16 and 75, attended the workshops. They were each given safety equipment including a lifejacket and flares, with information on how to use and look after them. A small number was also provided with personal locator beacons (PLBs), as part of a trial of the lifesaving devices on the island.

two men and a lifejacket
Maritime New Zealand © 2019
Pacific Maritime Safety Programme Manager David Billington (left) shows a Niue fisher how to wear an inflatable lifejacket.

Many told tales of near misses they had experienced.

Desmond Hipa survived a five-hour ordeal in the water after his boat capsized in January 2015, taking his EPIRB and cellphone with it. He held up the lifejacket he credits with saving his life.

After his boat sank, realising he could not swim to safety, Mr Hipa allowed the current to take him, and held on to the hope he would eventually be brought back to shore. He was pulled seven or eight miles out to sea before slowly being brought back towards the reef.

“The moral of the story is that the lifejacket saves your life. It happened so fast – I had no time to get my things. Don’t store it, wear it.”

DAFF officials also demonstrated how best to right a canoe after capsize.

Pacific Maritime Safety Programme Manager David Billington says he was delighted with the turnout and engagement of the attendees.

“We’re so pleased to see how keen they are to learn and improve their practices. The aim of the programme is to encourage the development of a strong maritime safety culture which is already happening in Niue.”

David says Niue’s search and rescue capacity had vastly improved since the programme provided a $367,000 search and rescue vessel last year – and Coastguard NZ delivered training to Niue search and rescue boat operators.

“Any fishers who get into trouble now know that assistance is nearby – the key is ensuring they have the means of calling for help.”

Other recent Pacific Maritime Safety Programme activity:

  • Delivering search and rescue training workshops and advice – recent workshops have taken place in Vava’u, Tonga in May and Tarawa, Kiribati in June.
  • Providing training and support to Fiji in the use of five emergency response vessels donated by New Zealand Aid – these played a crucial role after Fiji was hit by two damaging tropical cyclones in April.
  • A recent visit to Kiribati to plan delivery of the programme over the next three years.
  • Technical advice provided to Tokelau on managing its government vessels.
  • Commissioning a search and rescue boat and boat shed for Tokelau.
  • Navigation aids, pilot training, and nautical charting in the Cook Islands.
  • Visits to Cook Islands, Tuvalu and Samoa planned for the next few months. Niue’s new search and rescue vessel, donated through the Pacific Maritime Safety Programme, sits just off the coast during a safety workshop.

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