The first ever Fiji-built underwater viewing vessel has been officially launched by the Tourism Minister.
The SeaView is submarine-shaped semi-submersible vessel, built by The Melanesian Trading Company Limited, trading as South Sea Subs.
The Chief Executive Officer of the company, Robert Van Der Moigg described the vessel to Beverley Tse.
ROBERT VAN DER MOIGG: It's basically a 74 feet, 18 metre vessel and it looks like a submarine. If you see it from the shore people are convinced it's a submarine. I think it's actually only a semi-submersible, so it never actually submerges. And under the water line, there's 2.6 metres under the water line. Once you get under water it's a huge area. It's basically 17 metres long, 3.6 metres wide and you've 6'6" head room down there. Fully air conditioned, carpeted, beautiful white walls, all the usual. And 14 1.5 metre-by-1 metre viewing panels in the walls.
BEVERLEY TSE: Is it a moving vehicle or does it stay still?
RV: No, it's moving. We operate out on a reef which is six nautical miles away from our home base. The sub is based out there and we use our other vessels to transfer people in and out. So we can transfer the passengers over on to the SeaView and the SeaView does a tour the whole way around the reef, which is now as of a month ago a marine-protected area, so no fishing and all the rest. So they do a tour around the reef and then it stops on the northern side where we moor up and we do a massive fish feed.
BT: So I'm guessing the idea behind this is to boost tourism and to give people a chance to see what's beneath the see, is that right?
RV: It is, yes. There's a lot of semi-submersible vessels in the world. No-one has ever made one this big, though. We can take 47 passengers very comfortably underwater.
BT: And what are they able to see on this vessel that people can't see on other vessels?
RV: The point of us making this for the reef we will be using is that there's no fishing, we've started clam farming there, we've started coral planting. Really to showcase what Fiji and the rest of the world used to be like. Even the Great Barrier Reef is depleted these days. So bringing everything back to its natural state, 100% natural state, and showcasing underwater. Fiji is stunning, anyway. It's even more stunning underwater.
BT: Now, it costs Fiji $1.8 million to make. That seems like a lot of money. Was it money worth spending?
BT: And how will you regain what's been invested in it?
RV: There's no immediate returns there. We've invested a lot of money elsewhere into this country - myself and my business partner, who's an Australian. We believe in Fiji, we believe in Fiji's future. It has a very strong future, especially as far as tourism goes.
Robert Van Der Moigg says a journey on The SeaView costs US$75 for an adult and US$42 for a child.