SPC: ‘Freight rates are lower, the frequency of services to our countries is increasing and there is evidence that our people are happier with shipping services,’ says the Chair of the Central Pacific Shipping Commission, Thomas Heine, Marshall Islands Minister for Transportation and Communication, at the opening of the CPSC annual meeting held in the Suva office of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) last week (21–23 October).
The Pacific region is essentially a large ocean island state. About 98 per cent of it is ocean, making shipping services critical for connectivity and, ultimately, for economic and social development.
However, for a long time, the concern for Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) has been irregular, expensive shipping services. For the shipping companies, the concern is economic sustainability and ensuring quality of service.
Recognising these concerns, leaders of the small island states of the Pacific called for more reliable, affordable and sustainable shipping services through the creation, in 2010, of a Central Pacific Shipping Commission (CPSC), with country members from Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Tuvalu.
With SPC’s Transport Programme providing technical and secretariat services, CPSC commenced operations in January 2014 and, so far, its members have seen improved shipping services – more reliable and affordable. There is evidence (from the National Shipping Councils) that complaints against shipping services are declining and some feedback has been extremely encouraging. Similarly, shipping companies concerns are being progressively aggressed and they have reported an increase in the frequency of services and this is expected to continue.
The benefits accruing to PICT consumers are testimony to the effectiveness of this public/private partnership. The CPSC model has allowed for more inclusive dialogue and cooperation at sub-regional and national level, with the common goal of harnessing economic opportunities for PICT communities.
While the benefits to CPSC members are beginning to emerge, they have not come without challenges, allowing the CPSC members and the private sector to improve service delivery, according to the Chair of the Commission.
During the meeting, the Commission acknowledged the important role of the shipping companies in realising their common goal. Similarly, the shipping companies servicing the CPSC members commended the Commission for its commitment and sustained effort to ensure that the issues of all parties are satisfactorily addressed. ‘It’s no easy feat for a group of countries to come together and agree on how best to resolve competing issues of major stakeholders whilst at the same time not losing sight of their common goal,’ says Craig Strong, General Manager, Pacific Agencies.
The success of the Commission to date is due largely to the dedication and leadership of the Commissioners at national level, according to Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu, Deputy Director-General of SPC. She continues, ‘Through their commitment to the goal of CPSC, national shipping councils were created to monitor the progress of the Commission’s work in realising the goal of reliable and affordable shipping services.’
The CPSC annual meeting concluded with an affirmation of their support for the development of the Eastern Pacific Shipping Commission. CPSC will also continue to work with shipping companies to improve shipping services and will strengthen its effort to monitor these services through improved port management arrangements and legislative review.