The brand-new Tokelau ferry “Mataliki” snuck quietly into Apia port on Wednesday , awaited by staff of the Tokelau Transport and Support Services (TSS) Department.
The ship was designed in London and built in Bangladesh at a total cost of over NZ$12 million (US$8 million), funded by the New Zealand government.
Upon arrival on a beautiful calm morning, Mataliki was decked out in international signal flags for numbers and the letters of the alphabet. This ancient form of marine communication won’t ever need to be put to use seriously, it is hoped, as the ship is equipped with the most modern satellite navigation and communications technology - there’s even WiFi on board for its crew and passengers, so has been promised.
TSS Director Asofa Fereti said the new boat’s arrival was the end product of years of negotiations and team work between colleagues in NZ MFAT and TALO. Many technical people were engaged to provide input into the initial design and further modifications.
“It’s a dream come true for Tokelau”,Fereti said. “We have been waiting for this moment for a long time; let’s hope the vessel proves worth the wait.”
Delivery of the boat from Bangladesh was a year behind schedule because there had been problems with the stability of the boat in its initial design. This has now been fixed and the boat has been making its successful voyage from the shipping yards in Chittagong, Bangladesh since 29 December.
Mataliki stopped over in Singapore for a week, departing there on 12 January and making refueling stops at the ports of Dili, East Timor on 18 January and in Honiara, Solomon Islands on 27 January. The vessel’s crew comprised mostly Tongans including Chief Engineer Tolati Fifita. They had first been flown in from Tonga for the sea trials last year, and then again for the entire voyage to Apia.
The crew included one Tokelauan, Lamesa Mataga. Both the Master, Steve Christieson and First Mate, Allan Dillon had been flown in from New Zealand for the journey.
The new Tokelau ferry replaces a succession of charters from the Samoa Shipping Corporation: the Fasefulu and Lady Naomi have been supplementing trips by the PV Matua which has been doing regular, approximate fortnightly trips for several years until its engine broke down in July last year.
Operations of the new boat will be jointly managed by the Tokelau Transport Department and the company Transport and Marine – whose Operations Manager Dick Mogridge was on hand to also sign off on arrival of the boat in Apia.
Mataliki is capable of transporting up to 60 international passengers at a time, and a relatively small amount of cargo for the three Tokelau atolls Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. It can carry up to 120 passengers between the atolls.
Tokelau’s population of about 1,400 people is entirely dependent on shipping for people and goods, as there are no flights to and from the islands. The length of the trip to Tokelau will not change much as a result of the new boat. With a cruising speed of 11.5 knots, Mataliki is still expected to take at least 24 hours for a one-way journey from Apia to the nearest atoll, and 4-6 hours between the three villages.
Mataliki is intended to continue a fortnightly service between Apia and Tokelau, interspersed with freighters such as the Fasefulu that will still be chartered for goods and particularly fuel transport. Mataliki has been designed mainly for passenger transport, and passengers will find it a lot more comfortable than previous vessels. There are a greater number of proper berths to sleep in; there’s even a sick room for medical evacuations between hospitals. Solar panels will be mounted on the rooftop of the passenger deck to help reduce power consumption.
Mataliki’s maiden voyage to Tokelau is planned to start on 1 March. This will be just in time for the General Fono that is due to take place in Fakaofo from 7 to 10 March; the new boat will than also be officially welcomed by the people of Tokelau. They have been waiting a long time to take possession of their very own vessel: let’s hope they will be able to put it to best use for a long time to come.