Analysis | SHIPPING

Analysis: Can We Build Another Reef Endeavour?

The pandemic has rocked the world economic order and all the signs are that a global recession is now on our doorstep. Pacific island economies will be amongst those hardest hit. It may be some time before there will be a recovery.
27 May 2020 12:22
Analysis: Can We Build Another Reef Endeavour?
Reef Endeavour

In 1996 the Reef Endeavour was launched in Suva, a 75 metre cruise liner with a capacity of 150 passengers.

Built at the Fiji Marine Shipyard and Slipways, at 3000 gross tonnes, the Reef Endeavour was the largest ship built in Fiji.

With a fully functioning shipyard, Fiji proved it had the capacity to take on a project of this scale.

But we would be hard pressed to repeat that with the facilities we have today.

The pandemic has rocked the world economic order and all the signs are that a global recession is now on our doorstep. Pacific island economies will be amongst those hardest hit. It may be some time before there will be a recovery. Looking around the world, it is apparent that most countries are now readying major economic stimulus packages to maintain their economies and keep industry and commerce moving and producing.

Its classic Keynesian economics increased government expenditures, lower taxes and pump priming to stimulate demand and pull economies out of the depression.

Here in the Pacific there are clear signs that the major development banks, like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and our traditional development partners like the European Union, Australia and New Zealand are readying to help out responsible Pacific partners reinvest in the ‘new normal’.

But where is it that such stimulus packages should be directed. There is a new language emerging. Investors are looking for ‘shovel ready’ projects, for programmes that lead to ‘climate resilience’ and ‘blue/green recoveries’. While we are entering a global crisis, it is also likely a time of opportunity – if we are prepared to do the hard and smart thinking now about how we capitalize these for the right future investment.Even before the pandemic, Fiji and the Marshall Islands were leading a call on behalf of other Pacific countries, for an immediate investment of $500,000 million in blended finance (grants and loan modalities) to transition to new generation, green, efficient and cost effective shipping.

The Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership is all about a whole of sector transition. It’s more than just new ships, we need to put in place the infrastructure, the training, the support industries and the research to ensure such a transition is long term and sustainable.

It’s time to be strategic. For many of our smaller neighbours, the ship manufacturing and industry support systems needed are simply not viable for them to provide. That’s why we have to approach this from a multi-country angle. Our neighbours are going to need Fiji’s support if they are not to be left behind. And that in turn creates a market opportunity for Fiji’s maritime industry. Is now the time for Fiji to rebuild its national maritime industry capacity to be the financing and industrial hub for a regional transition?

If it is, it needs to be done smart and it needs to be done strategically.

If Fiji is to build a new ‘Reef Endeavour’ it would need to be a very different ship to the one launched in 1996.

The maritime industry globally is gearing up for the biggest revolution since sails were traded for steam and oil.

Around the world enormous innovation is already underway at all ship scales. New hull designs that are sleeker and more hydrodynamically and aerodynamically efficient.

Electric motors for propulsion and axillary generation with smart computer controlled charging and switching between systems.

Wind hybrids are an obvious choice with new fixed wing, soft sail and rotor designs capable of achieving large efficiency savings. New thinking and innovation around propellers and hull coatings. And it’s not only about the ships. They are just the trucks and buses of the oceans. We need to be thinking about how we organize our whole logistics chain – our ports, the way we connect sea and land transport, our warehousing and support systems.We are talking with our colleagues in countries like Norway and Sweden and UK where they are now building the next generation of cruise liners and ro-ro’s. To NZ where the government there has already invested in a portfolio of new electric harbour work boats and passenger ferries.

To the German and French maritime universities training the next generation of naval architects and engineers. We have a lot of friends out there willing to help.

If we were to build a new ‘Reef Endeavor’ in Fiji, what would it look like, where would we build it what skill sets would we need, what industries need incentivizing to get us there?

Surely, its time now to invest in the smart thinking needed to make sure Fiji and the Pacific are ‘shovel ready’ to invest strategically.

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