Over the next three days an organisation aimed at improving the regularity of shipping services in the central Pacific is expected to get full endorsement from the governments of Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands.
The Central Pacific Shipping Commission was launched three years ago with the help of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to try and overcome the irregular shipping services experienced by these countries.
The SPC's Captain John Round says over the intervening three years the Commission has been waiting for full endorsement from all the member nations.
He told Don Wiseman what they aim to do.
JOHN ROUND: From the beginning this originated from the desire of the small island states to have shipping regular and sustainable and, obviously, affordable. Given the fact that their sizes are small, economically this is not a very attractive grouping for shipping companies. And by getting together as a group the market share increases, and, thus, encourages the ship to consider coming to them. So that's really the bottom line of this.
DON WISEMAN: And the idea with the commission is it would effectively control the routes.
JR: It would basically regulate the routes. The understanding of the regulation was that you come to one, you come to all. So that comprises of Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Kiribati, which at the moment are the Central Pacific small island states.
DW: Presumably, there is the prospect of others joining in.
JR: There has been talk of asking Wallis and Futuna. Up until such time there's been agreement in principal, but we've not yet had any firm action in that regard.
DW: So three years ago the commission was set up with assistance from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, but there have been hold-ups, so what has caused the hold-up over the three years?
JR: Yeah, that is correct. One must realise that the membership comprises of the governments from these small island states. And over the years the government changes their members, the senior executive changes, as well, and they have made special requests for us to brief incoming ministers and secretaries. So that's been one of our major hold backs.
DW: But with these meetings over the next few days the commission will finally be set up as a proper regulatory body.
JR: I believe that is the intention, yes.
DW: Based in Fiji?
JR: At the moment it's in Fiji just to get the commission up and running. And I believe from there on they will have to decide whether it will be Marshall Islands or wherever, for that matter.
DW: And a significant operation in terms of manpower or small?
JR: I don't think it's been envisioned as something big. At the moment it's just one person and we have some support staff handling the issues, we have an economist and database staff come in to assist. But generally the intention is to have it small - probably one, maximum two.
DW: What sort of interest has been shown by the shipping companies in working under this sort of arrangement?
JR: Surprisingly, the interest has been what we expected.
DW: What did you expect?
JR: They basically have come in support. We were expecting that, because the commission actually ensures that the market supply and the demands are met. And once the approved shipping companies have been identified there will not be any cherrypickers, so to speak.
DW: Are you talking there about subsidising it?
JR: No, it's not subsidising. Subsidising is something we're trying to shy away from. The commission has not even thought of subsidy. It's basically ensuring that the market is secure for the small number of cruise shipping companies that would be given licenses to operate. And the market is such... We have from our stats that the market is sustainable for a small group, provided there's some control monitoring mechanism put in place.