Analysis: Perceptions Of Pacific Maritime Realities

While researching the best ways to monitor and evaluate shipping operations in the region, I’ve come across a range of documentaries portraying various aspects of Pan-Pacific sailing traditions. This year,
29 Jul 2020 15:51
Analysis: Perceptions Of Pacific Maritime Realities

While researching the best ways to monitor and evaluate shipping operations in the region, I’ve come across a range of documentaries portraying various aspects of Pan-Pacific sailing traditions.

This year, two films, The Ocean Knows No Borders and LOIMATA, The Sweetest Tears, have been publicised, lauding the trailblasing efforts of Tonga’s Captain Aunofo Havea Funaki, and Aotearoan/Samoan Captain Lilo Ema Siope, respectively.

Both films cover topics around gender inclusivity in maritime tradition, the role of voyaging in understanding care and conservation of both marine and island spaces, and the legacy of sailing as a cultural foundation in the Pacific.

These two films join a litany of other beautiful seascapes brought to life in the documentaries such as Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey shot aboard the Hokulea with members of the Ohana Wa’a, and We, the Voyagers: Our Vaka, focused on the Vaka Taumako project in the Solomon Islands.

Compounded by the fictionalised Pan-Pacific depiction of Oceania brought to bear in Disney’s 2016 animated feature, Moana, the world beyond the Pacific Island Countries receive a stilted, romanticised selection of what Pacific seafaring truly entails.

It does not aid efforts to draw attention to the dramatic need for overhaul and revitalisation of the shipbuilding and seafaring capacity of Pacific Island Countries and the vessels operating in their waters.

While the efforts of the Ohana Wa’a, Vaka Taumako Project, Waan Aelon in Majel, The Drua Experience, and other cultural heritage programmes represent the resurgence in traditional navigation, seafaring, and shipbuilding efforts around the region, the impact they have on cultural perception vastly outscales the current capacity of sailing vessels to provide the necessary cargo capacity and passenger carriage between islands domestically and intra-regionally.

Whereas over a century ago, sailing vessels made up the vast majority of all trade and travel within Oceania, the steady subsuming of these traditions by steam and screw have quietly placed the region under reliance on ships built elsewhere operated on imported fuel.

Pacific Trade

Pacific trade autonomy and sustainability have been slowly, steadily replaced with reliance on global supply chains and manufacturing/refining capacity that cannot be matched within the region in a cost-effective manner under the existing economic paradigm.

By ticket sales and television spots, traditional vessels are represented in global media, and help drive an image of exoticism and novelty held by many in the developed markets whose citizens have previously contributed immensely to the tourism revenue of the region on an annual basis.

While tourism is hampered and the global market is constricting, how may the region address the absence of sailing vessels in addressing the tonnage and travel needed within Oceania?

The lessons learned over past centuries provide foundations for conducting inter-island/intra-regional trade without reliance on oil imports and global market forces.

This means planning now for decades to come in terms of seafaring and shipbuilding training, as well as material resourcing for vessels at all needed scales.

This ranges from planting the trees now to build wooden vessels required in 2050, to securing steel and aluminum supplies with sufficient foundry operations to meet the needs of larger vessels, and renewable energy supplies for construction and fueling these ships.

This is why the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership has been developed for deployment at the earliest opportunity.

In light of the recently announced 2020-2021 Budget, reductions in tax across the transport sector were almost universal, and almost entirely uniform in proportional distribution of rate reductions.

This means there are no relative up-front savings accrued from investing in low-carbon, low-emission technology.

This means, in effect, low CAPEX vessels remain low CAPEX, regardless of how high the recurring operational costs may be.

As a consequence, this reduces the tax revenue generated to maintain a “business-as-usual” market scenario, which does nothing to improve operational efficiency, safety, or security in the national fleet.

It also does nothing to incentivise the restoration and improvement of tourism appeal in the domestic sea transport offerings.

There is a reason travel documentaries and promotional footage for businesses and productions are shot on-board the vaka, proa, and drua now sailing Pacific waters instead of highlighting the backed up sinks and overflowing toilets of the ferries between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

There’s no glamour in the sea transport realities for most of the travelers requiring passage between islands – just a proliferation of sanitation issues, occupational health and safety violations, and Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF) infractions.

For an island nation with a storied tradition of maritime excellence, it is reasonable to expect the realities rise to meet the perceptions, and domestic sea transport be delivered at a standard that tourists expect, and citizens deserve.

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