The unintended consequence of a transport safety inquiry into Taio Shipping and the temporary detention of three of its ships is that the islands of the north have run out of supplies, most notably petrol.
The Ministry of Transport inquiry followed the tragic disappearance of Auckland-born seven-year-old Lapana Tupou, of Rakahangan descent, who was lost at sea in August.
Taio Shipping complied with the inquiry and its ships were cleared for service last month, though two are in need of greater numbers of crew to comply with manning requirements.
“It’s difficult obtaining crew, especially foreign crew from overseas,” says Josh Taio, director of Taio Shipping.
“There are a lot of procedures in place with health and immigration and so forth so that’s where we are at the moment. The boats are available and if we find crew, they will go.”
A Taio Shipping boat leaves today for Palmerston, Pukapuka, and Nassau. Arrangements for other islands are yet to be made.
In the meantime, since the last visit by a cargo ship in early September, Manihiki has exhausted its stores of imported food and petrol.
“No more rice, no sugar, no flour,” says JeanMarie Williams, who lives in the village of Tauhunu. “The shops are empty.”
“We are totally out of petrol,” says Jane Kaina, Manihiki’s executive officer. “We prefer to have stores of petrol before Christmas and New Year’s, so we are just hoping there will be a boat.”
Manihiki’s mayor, Ngamata Napara, confirmed the island administration is no longer selling petrol to members of the public, including pearl farmers who need boats to access their farms and lines.
She says they’re also running out of aviation fuel, which Air Rarotonga’s planes need to return to Rarotonga from Manihiki.
Adds Kaina: “We are used to going without supplies.”
A spokesperson from the island administration of Penrhyn says aviation fuel is nearly out there also.
Since the last boat came in early August, Pukapuka has also run out of petrol, which means fishers can’t go beyond the reef and government workers and farmers can’t use heavy machinery, confirms executive officer Pio Ravarua.
Kwai, a Honolulu-based cargo ship that stops throughout Kiribati and the northern Cook Islands three or four times each year, is expected to arrive at Pukapuka on 20 November, at Nassau on 22 November, at Manihiki on 25 November, at Rakahanga on 27 November, and on Penrhyn on 29 November.