Responding to former MP Wilkie Rasmussen’s claims in Tuesday’s Cook Islands News that the government hadn’t enough to sort out transport issues, Brown said the government understood peoples’ disappointment with the situation.
“But as a government, we cannot afford to risk our people’s lives by travelling on ships that are not compliant with safety standards.”
For many years Taio Shipping transported hundreds of returning Cook Islanders to Northern Group islands: Penryhn, Manihiki, Palmerston, Rakahanga, Pukapuka and Nassau.
But the tragic loss of life of the young boy on a Taio Shipping vessel in September prompted an investigation which found that Taio Shipping was non-compliant in a number of areas that rendered all their vessels restricted to cargo service only.
Passenger travel on the company’s boats would be restricted until safety and compliance standards had been met, Brown said.
The government had started to look at other options as early as October for the pending large tere parties to continue with their plans to travel north for the Christmas season, he added.
However, the government’s call for expressions of interest only received one response as all other vessels in the region were already committed to Christmas travels to their own islands.
“As a country that has graduated on January 1, we need to consider that our people do not want to and should not travel as we did in the past, on the deck covered with a tarpaulin while getting wet,” he said.
“Our people deserve modern standard shipping and that is something that we as a country need to provide.”
Brown said as plans were being made confirming the charter of the vessel from Tonga, the Cook Islands region had been hit by bad weather.
This had resulted in cargo vessel Olomana having to wait offshore for over seven days before coming into port on Christmas Eve. The continued bad weather had also led to delays with the gas ship getting into port.
At this same time Cyclone Sarai was moving from Fiji to Tonga, further delaying the departure of the Tongan vessel,” Brown said.
“These delays were caused by the weather, which we cannot control,”
Taka-I-Pomana was due to depart for the north yesterday afternoon after delays caused by Wednesday’s storm. Brown said the vessel would layover in Penrhyn until its scheduled return on around January 20.
“I think Wilkie Rasmussen’s comments are nothing more than political posturing. His attempts to denigrate Minister Tapaitau are typical rhetoric from a failed politician who looks to gain political mileage from other people’s misfortune - just disgraceful.”
Brown strongly defended Member of Parliament for Penryhn Robert Tapaitau who is in Penrhyn with his people preparing for the arrival of visitors.
He, along with Associate Minister Tingika Elikana, had been “strongly instrumental” in getting a charter vessel to take the people to their home islands in the first place, Brown said.
“While in Penrhyn, Minister Tapaitau has been in daily contact and has also been responsible for organising a water shipment to go up with this ship.”
Penrhyn is experiencing a water shortage and Tapaitau had arranged for 100,000 litres to be transported North along with four large water tanks, Brown said.
“With government committed to improving our domestic shipping, I am looking forward to the coming year when we will be able to announce and confirm what the future of shipping will be like.”