Unless, a last minute “white knight” creditor can save the ship, there are few options left on the table for the Ports Authority to deal with the rusting and inoperable boat, apart from having it towed out to sea and sunk.
The authority is concerned that if Rarotonga is struck by a cyclone during the 2017/18 season and the ship cannot be moved quickly, the Tiare Taporo could sink at its berth or damage the Avatiu harbour facilities.
If it were to either damage the wharf, or in a worst case scenario sink at its berth, it could prevent container ships and other vessels from entering the harbour, causing severe economic damage to the Cook Islands.
The Ports Authority has been patient in their dealings with Pacific Schooners in the past, and has said on a number of occasions that the Tiare Taporo can be berthed at the wharf as long as it needs to be there, but under two conditions: It must have a current inter-island shipping licence to receive berthage, and will need to be able to leave the harbour under its own propulsion.
The Tiare Taparo’s inter-island shipping licence expired on May 31 this year and sources connected with the issue say Pacific Schooners has failed to maintain the vessel since early 2017. The engine has not been started in that time and the vessel is now unable to leave Avatiu harbour under its own power. If it needs to be moved, it will have to be towed by the Ports Authority tug and another vessel.
Efforts to find a suitable liquidator for PSL have been unsuccessful and now the Ports Authority are taking action. The authority is owed unpaid rent for its office and warehouse space and, since June 1, 2017, for port dues, since the company’s licence expired in May.
Courts documents filed on Friday outlined a notice of intention by the Ports Authority in support of a petition on behalf of PSL’s creditors.
The proceedings were first delivered in the form of a petition in January 2017, and issued by Apex Agencies trading as Toa Petroleum and Porter Group Holdings Ltd trading as Toa Gas, to wind up the PSL.
The petition was issued on the grounds that Pacific Schooners had been served with a notice under the Companies Act 1955 and had failed to comply with the notice by paying a debt of $55,472.02, for the supply of fuel to the ship.
The petition was heard on two occasions in February, but Pacific Schooners were unable to work through a number of conditions needed to be met before the winding-up could be made, including the appointment of liquidators.
The Ports Authority has now filed a notice of intention to appear in support of the petition, together with an application to seek orders along the lines of those used in the “Miss Mataroa” case, along with further suggested draft documentation to allow that procedure to go ahead.
Miss Mataroa, which was larger than the Tiare Taporo, sat abandoned in Avatiu harbour for an even longer time. The ship, which was full of dangerous asbestos material, was finally scuttled and sunk, five nautical miles off the coast of Rarotonga in 2007.
Scuttling the Tiare Taporo is not the preferred option of the Ports Authority, but is the last available choice unless a third party steps forward to assume responsibility for the vessel.
Previous suggestions by Pacific Schooners that refinancing was possible and funds would be spent to make the vessel operable have come to nothing.
The Ports Authority says Pacific Schooners Ltd have abandoned the Tiare Taporo and are now seeking to enact the Ports Authority Act 1994-95 and remove her from the harbour.
With the start of the cyclone season less than two months away, urgent action is needed, the authority says.