June 13, 2007



BASIC food items are reportedly running low in retail shops on islands in the Lau Group because inter-island vessels that service the islands are not visiting regularly.
The problem has been an ongoing one for the maritime province.

Shipping operators say the cost of running their services are very high and they are hopeful that government will consider their plight.

One trip to Lau costs a vessel an average of $10,000 in fuel, with other items like wages for staff and food ration taking expenses up to approximately $25,000 per trip.

Many are now asking what has happened to the franchise service set up by the deposed Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (SDL) government, to help subsidise costs for local shipowners who were awarded contracts for certain routes under the franchise.

Reports received from some of the islands in Lau yesterday confirmed that there was a shortage of groceries on some of the islands.

Basic food items now needed urgently include sugar, salt, rice, flour, cooking oil, tea and washing soap.

The lack of stock is because the two vessels that service the islands only visit the group once in a month.

The two vessels, the MV Tunatuki and the MV Cagi Mai Ba take turns visiting the different islands, with one visiting northern Lau while the other visits the southern islands.

They rotate after that.

The MV Tunatuki, which is operated by Salia Basaga Shipping, is still berthed at the Narain Jetty in Walu Bay, a week after it had loaded cargo destined for Vanuabalavu and other islands in Lau.

On board the Tunatuki is approximately $100,000 worth of cargo, including food items.
A part of this consignment was supposed to have been taken to Vanuabalavu, for the two Qalitu Enterprise supermarkets at Lomaloma and Mavana.

A Qalitu company spokesman told the Fiji Daily Post yesterday they had been waiting for the Tunatuki to sail since June 5 and they were worried because their supply was already on board.

“We have our supply for the two supermarkets already on board the Tunatuki,” the spokesman said.

“The supply on the island is running out and because the boat is not sailing some of the relatives have to buy the basic items from Suva and send them by airplane to the island.”
“As for us we are worried that our stock might get bad and that would mean a double loss for us.”

Efforts to try and get comments from the MV Tunatuki’s operators failed yesterday with telephone messages advising callers to call a Dharmend on a mobile phone number.

The MV Cagimaiba, the second vessel that serves the Lau Group, also visits the islands once a month.
Efforts to get comments from the Western Shipping Suva office yesterday proved futile with the answering machine advising callers that the phone mailbox was full.

Checks with supermarkets who receive orders from the islands revealed that they were also facing problems because of the irregular shipping service provided.

One of the supermarket managers said they had loaded supplies on the MV Tunatuki on June 5 because they were informed the vessel would sail that night.

But by yesterday afternoon the vessel was still at the Narain Wharf waiting to sail.
No comment was possible from the Ministry of Transport yesterday. When the Fiji Daily Post called, ministry staff kept transferring the call to a different extension.

A faxed question was also sent to Interim Minister for Transport, Manu Korovulavula but remained unanswered by the time this edition went to press.


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