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The North Malaita Constituency in Solomon Islands has entered into the bunkering sector with the purchase of an ocean-going bunker fuel tanker from Australia.
When North Malaita MP Jimmy Lusibaea bought a fuel tanker instead of a passenger vessel for his constituency, some constituents went berserk.
“North Malaita does not need a fuel tanker. We need a passenger ship,” were some of the complaints.
But Lusibaea and his constituency committee have other plans.
They want a ship that operates profitably, not the kind that runs today and stops tomorrow.
Using the $3 million (US$385,000) North Malaita Constituency acquired under the government’s shipping grant, Lusibaea purchased a fuel tanker from Australia.
A fuel tanker carries fuel and refuels other ships anywhere out there in the ocean.
“We’ve seen there is no fuel tanker service currently available in the country,” explained David Suata, who manages Baelae Shipping Company, North Malaita Constituency’s shipping arm.
“So our MP Jimmy Lusibaea decided that instead of buying a passenger vessel, it would be logical to purchase a fuel tanker to meet the current market demand,” Suata added.
Since the fuel tanker arrived last year and was named MV Baelae, very little was heard about the ship as Lusibaea put it under some minor repairs.
But over the last three months, MV Baelae has been put into action as it begun refuelling local and overseas ships arriving at Point Cruz.
Its first big assignment happened last week when South Pacific Oil Ltd (SPOL) engaged it to refuel a tourist boat, The World, that berthed at Point Cruz.
“Before the tourist boat arrived in Honiara, they sent in their order to SPOL requesting 1.5 million litres of fuel,” Suata said.
“But as you know, SPOL does not have a fuel tanker.
“MV Baelae is the only fuel tanker in the country that can carry 1.5 million litres of fuel at a time.
“So SPOL requested our service and we were able to meet that demand.
“Before that, from what I understand, SPOL normally engages smaller fuel tankers owned by some logging companies.
“But as you know, they carry very minimum litres of fuel so it is time-consuming to go and come when refuelling the big ships.
“For our case, it was a one-off trip and the demand is met,” Suata said.
He said over the last three months, they’ve refuelled ships that were unable to do their refuelling at the Point Cruz wharf with SPOL.
“What they do is they come and lay on the side of MV Baelae and we just refuel their ships on the waters.
“Or if they wanted us to go to them, we can do that.
“It is a mobile refuelling service that operates on the waters.
“It’s a service that is unavailable in the country in the past.
“We are just filling up the gap now,” Suata said.
However, he explained that they are still to meet certain marine requirements before they can go into full operation.
“The outstanding issue for us now is the lack of qualified crew to handle the fuel tanker.
“We have qualified people in the country who can handle passenger and cargo vessels.
“But we don’t have people who are qualified to sail a fuel tanker.
“So we are working with the Maritime Department and the School of Marine at Ranadi to come up with a course that our crew can attend and get the right qualification.
“This is where we are at the moment.
“But right now, we are providing refuelling service at the Honiara port.
“When we finally have the people with the right qualification, we should be able to service the entire country,” Suata said.
MP Lusibaea said he was excited at the prospect and potential his constituency’s fuel tanker in meeting a service that has been unavailable for a long time.
He said SPOL has entered into an understanding with Baelae Shipping Company toservice overseas ships coming into the country and requesting refuelling while here.
“Our fuel tanker will also refuel a warship that is arriving in Honiara next month,” he said.
He said the income earned so far has helped the constituency to pay off half of school fees for its students.
“You know the school fee grant the government provides to each constituency normally comes in very late.
“In fact we are yet to receive this year’s grant.
“So what I did is borrowed money from Baelae Shipping Company to settle our students’ fees.
“When the grant comes through, we can use it to refund Baelae Shipping.
“I am glad to see our decision to purchase a fuel tanker instead of a passenger vessel is paying dividend,” Lusibaea said.
Most, if not all, constituencies that receive shipping grants from the government opted to purchase passenger vessels for their people.
SOURCE: SOLOMON STAR/PACNEWS
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