The truth is coming out.
So it’s not a surprise that MV Sitka, a Tongan registered vessel that was purchased for Malaita Outer Islands (MOI) constituency, has ran aground in Fiji two weeks ago after it developed mechanical problem.
The vessel, according to local marine authorities, is more than 50 years old.
Even if Albert Wong of Oceanic Marine Equipment Ltd, who facilitated the purchase of the ship on behalf of MOI constituency, travelled to Fiji, salvage the vessel, and sail it over, marine authorities will not register it.
For the simple reason that it’s against Solomon Islands Maritime Safety (SIMSA) policy to bring in aged vessels.
MOI, like other constituencies, secured $5 million of government funds to buy itself a ship.
Other constituencies that have acquired similar amounts of money have already purchased themselves good-size passenger and cargo ships.
TemotuVatud and East Kwaio are two examples.
The question is why MOI, with $5 million at its disposal, opted to buy a ship that was more than 50 years old from an island nation called Tonga?
Aren’t there better ships in ship-building countries like Korea and Japan?
The MP for Malaita Outer Islands, Martin Kealoe, must explain this to his people.
As a leader, his people expect him to account for the tax-payers money entrusted into his care.
The funds must be spent on a ship that would provide better and reliable service to his constituents.
As it is now, the situation does not look good.
Marine authorities are saying even if the ship is salvaged and brought over to Honiara, they will not register it because of its age.
A ship that does not appear in SIMSA’s registry cannot sail and operate in our waters.
On the other hand, if the ship is left on the reef in Fiji, that would be a huge loss for the constituents of MOI and tax payers of this country.
Such situation is a consequence of failing to follow established laws and processes.
It ought to be clear that SIMSA is the authority when it comes to acquiring ships from overseas.
They should be our first point of contact before financial transactions are made between the buyer and seller.
Derek Saru, SIMSA’s chief marine engineer, spelled it out quite clearly here:
“The normal procedure for intended ship owners/ship operators to follow is to consult SIMSA first about what ship they intend to purchase.
“This is to allow our ship surveyors to inspect that ship for quality and safety compliances.
“Our surveyors after inspection would then provide important documents back to the SIMSA Registrar of Ships, including ship’s Bill of Sale etc… de-register that vessel from Foreign Registry of that Ship, get Provisional Registry Certificate from SIMSA, comply to international sea voyage manning and follow relevant international shipping standards and then set sail to the Solomons.”
Intended ship operators need to take note of this.
To bypass SIMSA in the process would be regrettable.
This is a lesson for all.