Tonga ferry may offer cruises and overseas freight delivery
Tonga ferry operator looking for new ways to use vessel which is out of action for half of each week.
The operators of Tonga's inter-island ferry, MV Otuanga'ofa, are considering cruises and freight delivery to supplement its income and make use of downtime.
The vessel, supplied by Japan, and which came into service at the end of 2010, was the permanent replacement for the Princess Ashika, which sank in 2009 claiming 74 lives.
The manager of the Friendly Islands Shipping Agency which operates MV Otuanga'ofa, Captain Viliame Vi, says part of the arrangement with Japan is that the vessel must fund its own replacement.
VILIAMA VI: We are trying to cover all our costs because we had to do surveys, we had to keep to the Japanese classes, we had to do insurance and all the maintenance, and also try to make some money to run this kind of.. My direction given to me by the government was to run it also to make money, just like other businesses.
DON WISEMAN: How do the rates compare with the old days?
VV: Lots of things are going up, so we can't stay with the old-days price. If we stay with the old-days price we're not going to go anywhere.
DW: Clearly, I guess, the vessel has been well-supported. You're making money.
VV: Yes, we're making money. We are able to do all the directions given to me by the government. This is the direction that was given to me and I have to do my job. It's not about making money, it's about being able to do what was given to me and working to the directions given to me. I've done all my work that's been given to me. So I think it's not all about making money. It's about keeping all these obligations, keeping the vessel safe, putting them under survey, putting them under class and also making this money so that in 15, 20 years from now we can buy a ferry without going after aid or anything.
DW: Now, there is a significant amount of downtime with the boat and it's tied up at the wharf in nukualofa. You're looking at doing cruises and this sort of thing.
VV: Well, that is the part of the business plan that we had. We had to utilise the vessel, use the vessel to make as much money as possible so that we're able to keep our obligations. We are paying hundreds of thousands just for the insurance. We're paying a lot of money for the sky docking and everything. It's cost us a lot of money. So that money has to come from the ship. And also I've got people working for me and all of these workers have to be paid. So it has to come from the ship. The ship is the one that generates the money to make all of this happen. And to make this happen we have to have a business plan. So in this business plan we have to utilise the ship as much as possible. 'Cause that's the only source of income that comes to us and to the government. If we're not able to make that, we're not able to work, we're not even able to do anything with it.
DW: So what sort of things are you doing?
VV: At the moment we are looking outside, looking at plans to get the vessel overseas somehow, and also we're looking at harbour cruises not only here in Tonga. So these are the things that we're looking for so that we utilise the vessel as much as possible. Because according to the downtime, we are basically utilising the vessel only about 50% so we need to push it up to about 75% even 80% of the time, because of its downtime.
DW: You talked about getting it overseas. How do you mean? What would you do?
VV: Well, carrying cargo overseas if we can, making trips, going out to the outer islands of the Pacific, Fiji or Samoa and so on. Because we've got produce in Tonga to sell so we might as well go out and utilise the vessel as much as we can.
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