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Sailors and TradersA Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples$

Alastair Couper

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780824832391

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824832391.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM HAWAII SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.hawaii.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Hawaii University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in HSO for personal use.date: 25 June 2021

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Chapter:
Chapter Ten Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping
Source:
Sailors and Traders
Author(s):

Alastair Couper

Publisher:
University of Hawai'i Press
DOI:10.21313/hawaii/9780824832391.003.0011

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines local and regional shipping from the 1960s onward, with particular emphasis on the political, technological, and social changes that have occurred in the maritime sector of the Pacific Islands during the period. It first considers changes in local shipping by focusing on the case of Fiji during the years 1960–2007. Fiji embodies many of the interisland seafaring activities found in several archipelagos and shows the beginning of a social revolution in shipboard relations that eventually spread to other island territories. The chapter also discusses the persistence of maritime traditions in Fiji during the 1960s, the disaster involving the Fiji cutter Kadavulevu, and modern sailors in Fiji. Finally, it looks at the formation of a jointly owned regional shipping line called Pacific Forum Line and its operations.

Keywords:   local shipping, regional shipping, Pacific Islands, Fiji, seafaring, maritime traditions, disaster, Kadavulevu, sailors, Pacific Forum Line

THIS CHAPTER PROVIDES an account of local and regional shipping from the 1960s onward. Many political, technological, and significant social changes in the maritime sector of the islands have taken place within this period.

The first part of the chapter deals with local shipping, which is the life-blood of islands where some communities have depended on inordinately small quantities of cargo being delivered to their beaches (figure 10.1). It would be impossible to examine the changes that have, and still are, taking place within this and other practices over several island territories. On the other hand, generalizations for the Pacific as a whole would result in distorted pictures of specific places. For these reasons, Fiji has been selected for a case study, taking two comparative cross sections in time from the period 1960 to 2007. Fiji does in fact embody many of the inter-island seafaring activities found in several archipelagos. It also shows the beginning of a social revolution in shipboard relations that will spread to other island territories.

The second related topic in this chapter is regional shipping. Since World War II there has been a greater awareness of Oceania as a geographic region. Despite ethnic and cultural differences, Pacific people express recognition of common components in their maritime heritage, experiences of colonization, types of resources, and the unity of the ocean. From his point of view as a Pacific islander, Epeli Hau‘ofa emphasizes that “it may be time that we think much less about geographic and cultural divisions, and much more about our region as comprising places where we can feel at home because of our greater networks of human connections.”1 No doubt, it was thinking along the lines of renewing links across a common ocean space that brought about consensus at the Pacific Forum toward approving the concept of a jointly owned regional shipping line. (p.166)

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Figure 10.1 Very small quantities of cargo were landed at places with few road connections. Here, sailors from New Ireland unload the punt of the Ninsa II on the east coast of Bougainville. The consignment includes a bundle of old newspapers to be used for smoking local tobacco.

(Photograph by the author, 1973)

Local Shipping in Fiji, 1960–1980

As elsewhere in the Pacific, the islands of the Fiji Archipelago in the post–Second World War period experienced the gradual withdrawal of stores related to merchant companies. Small villages then depended on ageing Chinese shopkeepers, a few Indo-Fijian shops, and local cooperatives. These were served by cutters owned mainly by part-Europeans and other nonindigenous citizens of the towns, plus a few provincial vessels and numerous smaller Fijian-owned craft. Ownership of vessels by race is shown in table 4 for 1965.

The six European-owned ships—of the well-known companies Burns Philp, Morris Hedstrom, and W. R. Carpenter—usually had part-European captains, chief engineers, and supercargoes and Fijian sailors. The vessels were steel hulled and diesel powered, including the Ratanui (250 gross tons, or GT) and Altair (137 GT), and all were around twenty years old in 1965. The part-European sector comprised wooden cutters owned mainly by four firms in Suva. At this time they had their business premises in the corners of warehouses. One of the largest of their ships was the forty-eight-year-old Melanesia (30 GT). Indian and Chinese craft were (p.167) similar and usually linked with small trade stores. The eight wooden auxiliary cutters and schooners under ethnic Fijian ownership ranged from about 5 to 40 tons; the largest and youngest was the two-year-old Yatu Lau (40 GT), owned by the province of Lau. There were also numerous unregistered craft, especially those owned by individual Fijians and village communities in the Yasawa Islands on the west of Fiji. These were crewed informally, and passengers were expected to lend a hand during the seven-to twenty-four-hour runs to and from the port of Lautoka.

On all ships the cargoes from port towns included bags of flour, rice, and sugar and cases of tinned meat, fish, milk, beer, biscuits, tea, cigarettes, and tobacco, as well as bulky consignments of clothing, house-hold goods, hardware, items of furniture, and on-deck drums of kerosene. Inward cargo comprised mainly copra. In addition, according to climatic and soil conditions, as well as time and distance, crates of pigs and fowls, fresh fruit and vegetables, dried fish, yaqona plants (Piper methysticum, or kava), voi voi (for mat making), and tapa (bark cloth) for town market sales. On the bigger ships, cattle would be carried on deck.

Patterns of local trade differed little in the 1960s from those of the more distant past. There were wharfs at Suva, Lautoka, Levuka, Labasa, and Savusavu, at which vessels could lie alongside. In the other three hundred or so local trading places in Fiji, cargo was worked from anchorages or by standing off and on using a ship’s boats and the crew as stevedores. On the bigger vessels, livestock was loaded by swimming cattle out for a mile or more and lifting them on board by slings. Passage times were long per ton of cargo. Typically one of the larger ships made sixteen offshore stops

Table 4. Ownership of the interisland fleet of Fiji (above 5 GT) by race, 1965

No. of vessels

Tonnage

European

6

889

Part-European

16

369

Indian

10

141

Fijian

6

163

Provinces

2

40

Chinese

2

30

    Total

42

1,632

Source: Records of the Fiji Marine Board, Office of the Harbour Master, Suva.

(p.168) over four days along the thirty-mile coast of Taveuni Island, unloading 50 tons of general cargo and loading 150 tons of copra by boats, mainly to and from estates. A small cutter spent five days around villages on Koro Island, unloading ten tons and loading thirty tons. Because of reefs, the movements between places were confined to daylight hours.

Time on a voyage could be extended even more due to socializing by crews in villages where they had kinship ties. I wrote elsewhere of this period: “Crews are sometimes composed of men who are all related to one another: the captain may be in command de jure but the de facto authority may belong to the group as a whole.”2 This was one of the reasons why the company-owned bigger vessels employed nonindigenous captains who were able to exercise authority in trying to keep to schedules.

As well as cargo, all types and sizes of vessels carried passengers. This service was vital for people in the outer islands, and it represented a significant source of earnings for the ships. Fourteen thousand passengers were recorded as arriving at the port of Suva in 1964, and a good deal more went unrecorded on small craft. Passengers usually boarded a few hours to a few minutes before sailing. They brought food for the trip, water and drinking nuts, sometimes live animals, and always assorted bundles of household items. These were stowed where space could be found, and passengers spread their mats on deck and on tops of hatches and housing. Mrs. R. L. Stevenson describes the scene in the 1890s: “The getting on board of people was a wild affair of noise and confusion. Boat after boat was unladen, and piles of the most extraordinary household goods blocked up every space that should have been kept clear.”3 There was little change in the 1960s.

Usually, more than half the passengers were women; they would attend to children, talk, eat, and sleep where they settled. Men played card games and drank kava and beer, and some strummed guitars. The setting was always unsanitary, and in bad weather wet. When approaching an anchorage, the women would revive, roll up mats, comb and oil their hair, and retrieve belongings, while the crew opened hatches and prepared the boat for working cargo. For passengers this was a cheap way to travel that allowed many hundreds to move between places.

The combination of heavily loaded vessels, most of them old and poorly maintained, and navigational hazards rendered interisland voyages risky in bad weather. Captains were frequently under social pressures to take more passengers than was safe, especially in areas where ship arrivals were few and uncertain. Many of the vessels bought secondhand from overseas were modified from their original designs to facilitate deck passengers, (p.169) often with additional high water tanks and more top burden of awnings and deck housing. All of this would reduce stability. The stability problem was not confined to small interisland craft in Fiji. Table 5 gives an indication of loss of life due to the capsizing of bigger ships at this time in various areas of the Pacific, and table 6 gives the occurrences of major causes of accidents to local vessels in Fiji waters over eight years.

The frequency of loss and damage to ships was a disincentive for owners to invest further capital on the maintenance of their vessels. This neglect in turn contributed to losses due to the deteriorating condition of the ships and added to the difficulties in keeping good crews, creating a dangerous vicious circle for sailors and passengers alike.

Crews in Fiji were drawn from Lau and Kadavu to a significant extent, although many resided in Suva. Employment was casual; there were experienced seamen who came and went as it suited them, and also young boys doing only a single trip. Wages were a matter of agreement with the captain, who was usually the only person with a local certificate. Living conditions on board were cramped, although the captain would normally have a single berth behind a partition abaft the wheel. The food supplied

Table 5. Pacific vessels lost due to capsizing (other than Fijian vessels)

Year

Name

Tons

Region

Loss of life

Source

1953

Monique

240

New Caledonia

120 (no survivors)

PIM, September 1953, 141

1955

Elsie B

280

Papua New Guinea

No survivors

PIM, August 1959, 103

1958

Melanesia

241

Solomon Islands

45 (no survivors)

PIM, August 1958, 65–66, 101

1963

Muniara

300

PNG

No survivors

PIM, August 1959, 103

1964

Polurrian

339

PNG

82 (29 survivors)

PNG Marine Board, Administrative Press Statement no. 47 (1964)

1964

Kavieng Trader

100

PNG

No loss of life

PIM, March 1964, 10

Note: PIM = Pacific Islands Monthly.

(p.170)

Table 6. Causes of major ship accidents in Fiji, 1956–1964

Cause

Occurrences

Moving along the coast during darkness

6

Careless navigation

6

Master asleep on watch

3

Incompetent master/officer, or captain too old

4

Wrong course steered

3

Bad anchoring

3

Engine breakdown followed by stranding

2

Other strandings and accidents due to collision, stress of weather, overloading, and the poor condition of vessels

25

    Total

52

Source: Records of the Fiji Marine Board, Office of the Harbour Master, Suva.

was usually rice, tins of meat and fish, tea, and root vegetables such as dalo (taro). Cooking was often done over a Primus stove on deck. Loaves of bread were bought before sailing, and often food was obtained in villages, supplemented occasionally by fishing.

With the exception of the part-European officers on the bigger company ships, crews were usually entirely indigenous Fijians and all male. This composition was partly determined by the need for tolerance in such confined spaces. Ethnic homogeneity was also almost inevitable, since few of the Indo-Fijian population, which had its origins in indentured land laborers from 1879 to 1916, showed any interest in a life at sea during the 1960s, other than in their own boats. This exclusiveness in crewing was further reinforced with the founding of the seamen’s trade union in 1946, the rules of which excluded all but Fijians from membership.4 Stevedoring labor was likewise composed of ethnic Fijians, based on casual employment with high and low demands for labor with ship arrivals. Sailors ashore would be engaged for cargo handling, and in the sugar ports firms would pay the turaga ni koro of nearby villages to supply labor.

In practice the crews of interisland vessels were not strongly unionized. They tolerated low pay, poor food, hard work, and physical danger. The excitement and freedom of going to sea when it suited them compensated for the harsh conditions. The men also valued opportunities to socialize in (p.171) villages and sometimes to carry out informal trading. Sailors would make gifts or barter tobacco and other items for yaqona, voi voi, and tapa, which they would sell to middlemen and market stall holders in Suva.

The small-scale trading by sailors was paralleled also by many passengers who carried an array of goods between port towns and islands as gifts and barter and for ceremonial purposes. These informal functions of the interisland vessels were of minor economic importance but very valuable socially. The noncommercial components of such island linkages became more visible when vessels were chartered for the purpose. Some traditional exchanges and other maritime customs that persisted into the 1960s are summarized below from field notes.

Persistence of Maritime Traditions in the 1960s

The first example of traditional exchanges described below appears simply to be barter, although a few border on the major solevu so important in the traditional interisland relationships of the distant past. The persistence of the solevu belies the prediction by Basil Thomson in 1908 that this would soon disappear: “With the arrival of the trader who, all unconsciously, was set to teach the natives an entirely new system of trade based on commerce, all need for the solevu vanished, and each product immediately acquired a recognized place in the scale of values, either in money or calico.”5

Author’s Field Notes and Port Records

  • 10 March 1964: 24 people left Lautoka for Yaqeta Island on the 23ft cutter Qoroi. They carried 24 five-gallon drums of kerosene and 18 baskets of salt (locally produced) to exchange for mats and foodstuffs.

  • 18 March 1964: The people of Naidi village near Savusavu and the people of Nabuna village on Koro Island chartered the cutter Tui Vunalagi (33 tons) for an exchange. The goods carried included dinner services, large basins, and household implements. They returned with bundles of voi voi and bales of tapa.

  • 15 August 1964: A Sogosogo Vakamarama (women’s association) from Lautoka arrived at Koro on the Gau Princess (14 tons) for a solevu. This had been under preparation for about 10 months. They brought 40 tins biscuits, 16 bags flour, 16 bags sugar, 45 gallon drums of kerosene, and 20 yards of material. They received 120 mats, 120 tanoas, several lengths of tapa, and a tabua (whale’s tooth).

  • 8 September 1964: Women of Nacamaki village on Koro received 10 (p.172) women from Suva who were wives of policemen. They arrived on the cutter Adi Maopa (43 tons) and brought dressing tables, chairs, crockery, and bags of rice. The party spent 2 weeks at Nacamaki and returned to Suva with mats, voi voi, coconut oil, dalo, and pigs.

  • 12 October 1964: Women boarded the MV Altair at Suva on their way to a Vakabodidrua (100th night end of formal mourning) at the island of Kanacea. They carried soap, yaqona, and kerosene and returned on 22 November with mats and masi [bark cloth].

  • 15 October 1964: 48 people sailed from Suva on the Yatu Lau for Lakeba. They were returning home after visiting relatives at the Vatukoula gold mines in northern Viti Levu. There they presented mats, masi, taro, yams, and coconut oil. They received money with which they purchased furniture, cloth, and kerosene at Suva.

A Major Solevu and Maritime Disaster

A large-scale solevu took place in March 1964. The following account was put together from participants and from official Fiji police reports about the ensuing disaster at sea. It provides some details of preparations and presentations and also reveals how enthusiasm for the event over-rode respect for the sea. This and possibly social pressures on the captain to overload contributed to the loss of the ship. The event was initiated in 1962 through what seems to have been a simple kerekere request by women of the village of Waitoga on Nairai Island to a related woman living in Suva, asking for money to repair the church. The recipient Tamalesi of Vatuwaqa contacted other Nairai women in Suva, and at some stage during regular meetings over two years a solevu was decided on.

The auxiliary cutter Kadavulevu was chartered for the trip. Built in 1920, she was 23 GT, 58 feet in length, and 15 feet in breadth and had recently been surveyed and licensed for the carriage of twenty-two passengers and seven crew (figure 10.2). The vessel carried lifeboats and life rafts to take thirty-one persons, and lifejackets for twenty-nine. The Fijian captain was an experienced seamen, Filimoni Samaki, aged sixty-two. He was qualified for this size of ship and had thirty-five years of sea service locally. The owner was the part-Chinese Samson-Lee, who sailed as engineer; the mate, Peter-Lee, was his brother; and there were four Fijian sailors plus Salesi-Lee, the son of the mate. The arrangements were for a solevu party numbering twenty-eight, although some thirty children were soon added. On the afternoon of 26 March members of the party began to board the ship. They stowed their kaukau (goods to present) in the hold and elsewhere. These included single and double beds, bales of cloth, (p.173)

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Figure 10.2. The Fiji cutter Kadavulevu (23 tons) berthed at Levuka. The boat sank in the Koro Sea on 29 March 1964, with the loss of about ninety people.

(Photograph courtesy of the Fiji Marine Board, 1962)

mats, and on-deck pens of fowls and drums of kerosene. They also carried food and drink for the trip and AU$800 collected for the church.

People continued to arrive at the berth by taxis up until after 2200. By the time the boat left Suva at 2240 there were some ninety persons on board. Fortunately the weather was favorable for the sixty-five-mile passage. The boat anchored off Waitoga village before midday on Good Friday, 27 March. Everyone disembarked by boats, and the goods were (p.174) unloaded. After being housed and fed, the visitors presented their solevu and money at the rara (ceremonial grounds). There were speeches, and quantities of yaqona were consumed, followed by a magiti (feast) and meke (women’s sitting dances) and later a tralala (joint circle dance, one behind the other).

On Saturday the Waitoga people arranged their solevu in an elaborate display some five feet high. This comprised 250 Nairai thick mats, 3 tons of yams, 4 tons of dalo, 800 coconuts, 3 sacks of tapioca, 8 bundles of bananas, 6 bundles of voi voi, 150 bottles of coconut oil, 8 live pigs, and 4 live chickens. A magiti, dancing, and drinking went on until midnight and, for some men, throughout the night.

On Easter Sunday all but three of the original passengers boarded along with four additional from Nairai. All the goods were stowed along with personal gifts. The ship sailed at 1530 for Suva. At 1900 they passed the island of Gau. The sea was then rough, and the boat was rolling heavily. After some debate it was decided to press on to Suva rather than shelter at Gau. At about 2300 the Kadavulevu capsized within sight of the lights of Viti Levu. There were only three survivors. They were able to relate what happened. One woman (Nina, aged forty-nine), who was supported by mats during the night, came across a raft at daybreak. She climbed on board, as did about ten other people, including two sailors and a boy aged fourteen. On Monday morning there was only debris to be seen in the rough sea. The sailors managed to retrieve green coconuts and peel them with their teeth for the survivors. By Thursday only one woman and the boy remained there to be rescued. All others on the raft had disappeared into the sea. The sailors may have tried to swim ashore for help but never made it. The other woman survivor (Saine, aged forty-three) also left the raft to swim ashore. She supported herself with timber and was washed up on a reef on Thursday morning. From there she swam ashore and gave details of the tragedy to the marine rescue parties already searching. By then about ninety people had drowned.6

This tragedy led to more stringent regulations in Fiji regarding the safety of life at sea. Captains were now required to deposit lists of passengers at the office of the harbormaster before sailing, and spot checks would be made to ensure that the number of passengers was within permitted levels. Compliance with these regulations could in practice be monitored only at main ports, however.

These few examples of continuation of traditional maritime customs have a number of common characteristics. Every stage of the exchange system, for example, was initiated by women, who also predominated (p.175) in the parties who travelled—it was suggested by Fijian men that these exchanges arranged by women were merely excuses for long holidays. In any event they revealed mutual support between related communities. One of the survivors of the Kadavulevu could name forty people on board that she knew well. Another feature was the consistent flow of “European” goods from the urban areas against “Fijian” goods from the islands, which presumably brought cultural as well as economic satisfaction to the participants, and emphasized the heritage value of local shipping.

Fiji, 1980–2007

Many structural and social changes took place in maritime activities by the 1980s and onward, although there were still navigational hazards and casualties. Alan Howard again cites the experiences of Rotuman people who purchased the interisland vessel Wain Rua in 1992 at a price of F$250,000: “It went aground on a reef at Kadavu in August 1993 and was judged unsalvageable.”7 Nevertheless increased investments were made in infrastructure, including some new types of vessels. This coincided with the withdrawal of foreign merchants from local shipping as their conventional ships went out of class with age.

New port developments, including ramps and other landing facilities, were established at selected central places in several islands at which Ro-Ro vessels, ferries, and barges could berth (figure 10.3).8 The fast-turnaround Ro-Ro Princess Ashika (677 GT) was purchased from Japan. She entered the run between Suva and Kadavu, capable of carrying cargo, four hundred or so passengers, and fifty motor vehicles, thereby replacing the capacity of more than twenty cutters. Other big ships included the Bulou ni Ceva (338 GT) and Queen Salamasina (647 GT). The latter vessel, as with others, was bought secondhand. She was ex-Japanese and had already operated for twenty-two years between Apia and Pago Pago for a Samoan company.9 Large numbers of passengers and baggage rooms on these vessels obscured any traditional exchange activities.

With the withdrawal of shipping by expatriate merchant companies, shipping finance now came from equity investments of the business community in Fiji, as well as bank loans and government allocations of over-seas aid. The shipping entrepreneurs included the Indo-Fijian Khan shipping group and the rising ship-owning Patterson family of Suva. There were also substantial investments by overseas hotel and cruise enterprises such as the Captain Cook, Beachcomber, and Blue Lagoon companies. By the year 2000, out of 166 vessels registered, 115 were tourist related. There were in addition many very small craft in island trading. (p.176)

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Figure 10.3. Modern Ro-Ro berth at Kadavu Island, Fiji, and adjacent platform for landing craft and barges.

(Photograph by the author, 1986)

Modern Sailors in Fiji

The more sophisticated vessels required better-trained and better-qualified seafarers. Achieving this has been promoted and coordinated in all states through the Maritime Advisory Services of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). A South Pacific Maritime Code, first introduced in the 1980s, laid down regulations based on International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions but customized for interisland trading.10 The aim of the most recent IMO convention of 1995 is to ensure that each officer and rating is trained and examined for competence in the functions he or she is to perform on board. Of particular importance are training in safety standards, especially as relating to crowd control, stability, and emergencies on Ro-Ro vessels, as the greatest recent loss of life occurred from eight Ro-Ro craft sinking in similar interisland operations in the Philippines between 1980 and 1988, with a total loss of 6,092 people.11 The information that follows on training, individual sailors, and present-day human relations in Fiji is derived primarily from observations, interviews, and personal communications.

In Fiji, training is carried out at the Fiji Institute of Technology, School of Maritime Studies (SMS) in Suva and in the Western District. Courses include ratings up to AB and motorman, cadets, and deck and engineering (p.177) officers from Class 6 (small craft and restricted distance) to Class 1 (master mariner and chief engineer foreign-going). The intermediate grades 2 to 5 qualify candidates for varying distances and ship tonnages. The school enrolls male and a few female students from Fiji and elsewhere and is multiracial.

Deck and engineering ratings have been consistently male. This is based on past seafaring traditions, the beliefs of employers that females are not capable of the hard physical work on deck and in engine rooms and may cause problems on board, and the additional costs of supplying separate facilities on small vessels. As a result, most Pacific island women have until recently been confined to hotelling and catering work on bigger ferries and cruise ships.

The profile of the average AB on a local ship is male, about age twenty-eight, who has left school early in his secondary education, engaged in other work, had some maritime family contacts or met seafarers in urban areas, and decided to enter local shipping and train as a junior rating. At one time he would probably have come from the outer islands. Nowadays recruitment is more diverse—from towns, islands, and even highland rural villages.

The profile is different for potential officers. Apprentice officers after secondary school may start on bigger local ships and progress as cadets on foreign-going vessels while following courses at the SMS at specified periods. The progress in the officer corps from cadet to Class 1 certificate may best be illustrated by summarizing the career of a modern Fijian sailor with typical ambitions and ambivalences to life at sea.

Tomasi Cama Kete was born in 1963 of parents who were originally from Lau. He reached sixth form at school and was eventually attracted to shipping. He attended SMS, served as a cadet on Marine Department vessels, then on the foreign-going ships of the Sofrana line. He followed certificate courses at the SMS and the Australian Maritime College. When qualified as an officer, he sailed with Samoa Shipping Services, Zapata USA, Blue Lagoon Cruises, Botany Bay Shipping, and other companies at all levels, including relieving master. There are high demands for such sea experience and qualifications ashore in education, government, ports, and commerce, as well as shortages at sea. Kete was sought after, and he taught for a time at the school. He says:

I quit being a permanent seafarer in November 1995 due to family commitments, but I still go out to sea at school breaks when time permits. I finally attained my Ship Master Class 1 [in Australia] in October 2003, (p.178) which I think is the peak of my seafaring career—even though I have not commanded a huge ship, which was one of my dreams when I started as a cadet. But I loved my time at sea, especially travelling around the world, with all its fun and available finances that go with it. My family is my main priority, and my main investment is my kids back home, as my presence alone with them will make a lot of difference to their future. I feel that I still need to go out to sea, but at a shorter period, to ensure that my Ship Master Certificate of Competency is valid at all times. It was through my seafaring career that I was acknowledged back home by my family and also motivated other youngsters back home to acquire an opportunity in the seafaring industry. My village alone has bred two Master Class One certificate holders.

In 2007 Captain Kete received a scholarship for a master of science degree at the United Nations World Maritime University, Malmö, Sweden.

As well as improvements in maritime education and training under IMO regulations, there has also been a veritable social revolution in Fiji. The young generation of Pacific sailors no longer seriously ascribes to the old tradition that females bring “bad luck” to a ship. Pacific women have shown considerable strength of character, as well as new professionalism, in taking charge of crews and in coping with family. A few summarized profiles will convey something of this new gender phenomenon in Pacific sea life:

  • Asenaca, age 25: In 2002–2006 qualified for a diploma in nautical science at SMS. Sea time as a cadet, was on the cruise ships Spirit of the Pacific and Reef Escape. She married a fellow seafarer in 2006, and in 2007 she was bosun of the cruise ship Ra Marama. She had a baby girl in 2007 and was studying for a Master Class 3, with the aim of a shore job.

  • Ofa, age 33: From 1996 to 2000 was cadet on cruise and Ro-Ro ships. She had a baby in 2000, which delayed her seagoing career for eleven months. During 2001 she flew to Honolulu and joined a long-liner fishing vessel. In 2002, while looking after her son, she passed certificate exams for Master Class 4. In 2003–2004 she served as chief officer on the local tourist ship Tui Tai and as second officer on the Spirit of Fiji Islands and the Ro-Ro passenger vessel Sullivan. In 2005 Ofa married an engineering officer, and in 2006 her second son was born. In July 2007 she was ashore with prospects as an operations manager of a shipping company and studying for Master Class 3.

  • (p.179) Rebekah, age 29: She went to sea before her eighteenth birthday on inter-island general cargo and Ro-Ro passenger ships. Then in 1996 she sailed as a cadet on gas tankers throughout the Pacific. In 1998 she married a fellow seafarer (“No, we did not meet on the same ship”). Rebekah joined an American-owned jig boat as fishing master/chief officer, catching albacore in the North Pacific and discharging in Ilwaco and Honolulu. She sailed out of Honolulu for another six months on long-liners, returning in 2002 to SMS to study for a Class 3 certificate. She taught safety courses at SMS, then sailed as third officer on Boral Gas until the start of 2005, “when pregnancy to my fellow seafaring husband beckoned me home.” From 2005 to 2007, she was studying, via distance learning, the Advanced Diploma Maritime Business and Logistics Management course at the Australian Maritime College in Tasmania, as well as taking care of her son. She was also actively involved in the Pacific Women in Maritime Association (PacWIMA).

  • Susana, age 30: Joined as a cadet in 1997. She served on local vessels, cruise ships, and Pertiwi 9, a foreign-going ocean tug. She qualified at SMS to Master Class 4. Her seagoing career includes chief officer of the ocean tug Pertiwi 9, chief officer of supply vessels MV Celeste and Pacific Hawk, and master of MV Celeste, engaged in voyages to Singapore and other Asian ports, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. In 2007 she was preparing for Master Class 3.

The other change in human relations in Fiji has been an amelioration within the maritime sector of the sensitive issue of race relations. The exclusion of all but indigenous Fijians from the Waterside Workers and Seamen’s Union, which was registered in 1946 with a specific racial limitation clause, continued until a rival unsegregated seamen’s union emerged in 1992. The reasons for the initial segregation are deeply embedded in colonial history. However, with the increase of Fijians as wage earners in ports and shipping, trade union exclusiveness seemed as much a matter of class as race. Ports and shipping had Fijian laborers and ratings, while Europeans and part-Europeans were officials and officers. Capital in turn came from the United Kingdom and Australasia and locally from Indo-Fijian commercial sources. The more class-conscious union organizers saw the Fijians as “workers” and the others as “bosses” who were not eligible for union membership.

The mobility of a few Fijian ratings with sufficient education to junior officer levels and the increase of indigenous Fijians serving as cadets and officers on local vessels have reduced the basis for class resentment. There (p.180) are still racial problems, but younger Fijian sailors recognize the merits of Indo-Fijians as mariners. For example, the Khan family on the island of Nairai have long been regarded as good sailors, running their own cutters, and Captain Khan is a highly respected master in command of a Ro-Ro with Fijian officers and crew.

By way of emphasizing both of these social changes, there is the experience of Carol Dunlop. She is ethnically a European of English origin who became a citizen of Fiji. She was an experienced yachtswoman, but when she applied to the SMS to study for Master Class 4, she was rejected on the grounds of race, gender, and mistaken nationality by a Fijian maritime official of the old school. Later a more enlightened professional welcomed her. She was successful in the examination, although when seeking a sea appointment, she “contacted every single shipping company” and got the same sort of replies: “We don’t employ women,” “No accommodation,” “A woman will cause trouble on the ship.” In a changing social environment, she became chief officer with a Fijian crew, and master of the Surprise—one of the most modern cruise vessels in the region—with officers and sailors from Fiji.12

The other partial force for change is the trade union movement. This movement has a checkered history in the maritime sector. Sailors, while intensely loyal to shipmates, are difficult to organize nationally, due to their mobility and a certain independence from shore authorities. The formation of unions was never favored in colonial times, and the national governments after independence used inherited penal measures against them. This approach saw several of the leaders of the Fiji Waterside Workers and Seamen’s Union jailed for strike action in 1977. Successive attempts at new trade union organization failed due to bad management and financial problems, including the multiracial Seamen’s Union founded in 1992. During 2006 another nonracial union was under formation, led by young, well-educated seafarers in Suva. One of the many issues in their agenda was the low levels of wages and their disparity between ships and companies. The rates for ABs on local ships in 2006, for example, ranged from US$260 to US$460 per month, with little in the way of collective bargaining, which was a union aspiration.

A Pacific Regionally Owned Shipping Line

The attempts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by island trading and shipping enterprises to bypass foreign shipping were revived (p.181) in the mid-twentieth century. This was a time of rising ocean freight rates and a greater awareness that the rates for the carriage of manufactured goods were generally passed on to island consumers as higher prices, while the freight rates in the export of raw materials were deducted from the payments made to island producers. This, allied to the innate desire of islanders to run their own ocean transport, gave rise to renewed attempts at obtaining national shipping capacity.

In 1959 the government of Tonga purchased the MV Aoniu to carry overseas cargoes consigned to Tonga, which were discharged at Suva. By this means at least most of the transshipment freight would accrue to a Tongan vessel. The Aoniu also conducted interisland trading and passenger carriage in Tonga along with local barge transport. Keeping schedules was difficult and sometimes was made more so by the ship being used to carry the royal family on state visits to Samoa. In 1963 Tonga purchased an additional cargo passenger vessel, the Nuivakai, which was put on the Australia-Fiji-Tonga regional service in competition with the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand. The ship at that time employed European captains and officers and Tongan sailors.

During this period the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was encouraging national shipping in developing countries to help regional integration and present countervailing power in the setting of liner freight rates.13 Over the years 1960–1971 the phosphate-rich government of Nauru started a national line with the MV Eigamoya, Rosie D, and Enna G. These ships had European captains and officers and Tongan sailors. In 1970 the Cook Islands government founded a national shipping company, chartering the Thallo and Lorene for the fruit trade to New Zealand. British and New Zealand masters and officers were employed, with Cook Island ratings. This was the start of a controversy over national crewing entitlements, since the Cook Island vessels received financial support from the New Zealand government.

These national endeavors in shipping gave rise to discussions at the Pacific Forum. The forum, comprising sixteen Pacific countries, approved a concept of a jointly owned regional shipping line, the Pacific Forum Line, or PFL. All member states became eligible as shareholders, either by allocating ships or by making financial investments. Those that joined were the Cooks, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshalls, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea (which had started a national line in 1976), Samoa, the Solomons, Tonga, and Tuvalu, while Australia offered some financial support.

(p.182) The new regional line, which had social as well as economic functions, faced many problems, including trading between islands, many of which were virtually monocultural in copra production; providing viable services to distant islands with low volumes of trade; and competing with already established shipping lines on high-volume routes, several of which were overtonnaged. At the same time, charter rates for foreign ships were often high and currency fluctuations unfavorable. Then there was the issue of chartering ships from the national lines of members, which in the case of New Zealand also meant higher charter rates due to the better wages and conditions of New Zealand seafarers.

The issue of the wages of seafarers on routes from Australia and New Zealand to the Pacific Islands was of long standing and emerged again just before the PFL started operations. New Zealand seafarers were already losing employment. The workforce was reduced by almost a quarter during the early 1970s as a result of the replacement of conventional vessels by container ships, and reduced manning on all vessels with the introduction of general-purpose crews and labor-saving equipment. The Union Steamship Company of New Zealand (USS Co.) in turn was losing profitable passenger traffic to air transport and, as a result, was withdrawing the New Zealand–crewed passenger-cargo liner Tofua from the New Zealand–Fiji-Tonga-Samoa service. The Nauru Pacific Line seized the opportunity to send the Enna G with a Fijian crew to enter the New Zealand–based route vacated by the Tofua.

Under the circumstances it was no surprise when the maritime unions in New Zealand declared the low-wage Enna G “black.” The New Zealand Seamen’s Union agreed in principle to the rights of vessels flying the flags of Pacific states that were entering trade between New Zealand and their Pacific home state, providing the crews were paid at ITF rates and were union members. Nauru challenged this as discrimination. The Fijian crew ultimately expressed agreement with the New Zealand seamen on rights to equal pay with New Zealand crews and were discharged by the company. The Enna G was held in Wellington from May to September 1973. The ship then left to trade elsewhere with some reinstated Fijian seafarers on island rates.

When the PFL finally started in 1978, it had to avoid the prospect of another Enna G type of issue over crewing and wages. The National Shipping Corporation of New Zealand chartered the New Zealand II to the PFL. The vessel had a New Zealand crew, but the extra costs of this was borne by the New Zealand government. The early patterns of PFL (p.183) services were on circular routes from Australia and New Zealand to the islands, and between islands.

The long-distance, low-volume route from Auckland through Suva, Funafuti, and Tarawa to Majuro in the Marshalls proved uneconomic. A feeder service was substituted, starting from Suva with transshipments to Tarawa. Even with the reduced trading distance, this service could survive only with subsidies from Australia and New Zealand. In the early 1980s two new ships specifically designed for the Pacific island trades were chartered. These were built with aid from West Germany—one to Tonga, the Fua Kavenga (meaning “the bearer of heavy responsibility”); and the other, the Forum Samoa, to Samoa. They were replaced in 2002 by the very modern Forum Samoa II (figure 10.4) and Captain Tasman (Fua Kavenga II). (p.184)

Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping

Figure10.4. The Pacific Forum Line’s Forum Samoa II (2002)—like her sister ship, Captain Tasman—carries 310 containers and has refrigerated and bulk liquid space, a twenty-six-ton gantry crane, a Ro-Ro ramp, and a speed of 15 knots. She has a crew of thirty, which includes a large number of trainees.

(Courtesy of the Pacific Forum Line)

Table 7. Crew composition on the Forum Samoa, 18 August 1999

Officers and petty officers

Ratings

Rank

Nationality

Age

Rank

Nationality

Age

Master

Filipino

48

AB

Dominican

31

Chief officer

Filipino

48

AB

Filipino

35

Second officer

Fijian

35

AB

Samoan

35

Chief engineer

Fijian

52

OS

Samoan

26

Second engineer

Filipino

38

OS

Samoan

27

Electrical engineer

Honduran

40

Engineer trainee

Samoan

26

Oiler

Samoan

26

Engineer trainee

Samoan

22

Engineer cadet

Samoan

24

Cook

Samoan

31

Source: Crew lists.

Table 8. Crew composition on the Captain Tasman, 10 August 2007

Officers and petty officers

Ratings

Rank

Nationality

Age

Rank

Nationality

Age

Master

Fijian

35

AB

Tongan

23

Chief officer

Fijian

41

AB

Tongan

26

Second officer

Tongan

42

OS

Tongan

20

Third officer

Tongan

26

Cook

Tongan

24

Chief engineer

Polish

44

Trainee steward

Tongan

24

Second engineer

Tongan

30

Assistant deck mechanic trainee

Filipino

45

Third engineer

Tongan

34

Deck trainee

Tongan

22

Electrician

Filipino

48

Deck trainee

Tongan

21

Chief steward

Tongan

54

Deck trainee

Tongan

39

Fitter

Tongan

33

Deck trainee

Tongan

25

Oiler

Tongan

26

Engineer trainee

Tongan

22

Bosun

Tongan

24

Engineer trainee

Tongan

21

Engineer trainee

Tongan

20

Engineer trainee

Tongan

28

Source: Pacific Forum Line.

(p.185) The four or so PFL ships continue to be time-chartered from the Pacific and overseas companies that own them. Consequently the owners provide the crews. The PFL encourages them to employ Pacific island officers and sailors, but only on ships owned by Pacific Forum states is it possible to have a majority of the crew from the Pacific. Table 7 lists the nationalities of the crew of the older Forum Samoa by ranks and ages on 18 August 1999 and shows only two Pacific islanders as officers. By way of comparison over time, the crew list of the Captain Tasman, in which the PFL has an investment, is given in Table 8 for 10 August 2007. On this list the captain is a thirty-five-year-old Fijian, and most of the officers are from the Pacific; only the chief engineer and the electrician are non-Pacific. Another Pacific crewing feature is the extra numbers of deck and engine trainees carried. This demonstrates the PFL’s ongoing commitment to the future seagoing community in the Pacific.14

There were undoubtedly occasions when the Pacific Forum Line appeared as if it would collapse in much the same way as earlier island-owned ventures. That it did not was due to the loyalty of the shareholder states. Part of this resilience was the pride of the Pacific community in seeing island ships sailing again on Pacific ocean routes. Fiji Prime Minister Ratu Mara expressed it very simply: “When you see this boat floating around with the Forum symbol—it is a great thing.”15 (p.186)

Notes:

(1.) Epeli Hau‘ofa, “A Beginning,” in Waddell et al., New Oceania, 136.

(3.) Mrs. R. L. Stevenson, The Cruise of the Janet Nichol (London: Chatto and Windus, 1915), 163.

(4.) Lal, Broken Waves, 168–169; Pramod K. Rae, “Ethnic Factors in Trade Unionism in Fiji 1942–1975,” Pacific Perspective 8, no. 1 (1979): 32–37; Jacqueline Leckie, “Colonial Inheritance and Labor: Structure, Conditions and Identities in Fiji,” in Lines across the Sea, eds. Brij V. Lal and Hank Nelson (Brisbane: Pacific History Association, 1995), 185–197.

(5.) Basil Thomson, The Fijians: A Study of the Decay of Customs (1908; London: Dawsons of Pall Mall, 1968), 286.

(6.) Derived from interviews with participants, notes by John Taka and sailors on Nairai, and information from Fiji Police Headquarters reports (May 1964).

(8.) A. D. Couper, Report to the Government of Fiji on Inter-insular Shipping and Trade (Suva, 1965).

(9.) “Samoa’s MV Queen Salamasina Sold to Fiji Company,” Pacific Islands Monthly, January 2000, 45.

(10.) South Pacific Maritime Code (Suva: South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation, 1986). The code was adapted to include small vessels in the region not covered by international conventions.

(11.) Lloyd’s Register Casualty Returns (1980–1988) and Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), Philippines.

(12.) Avnita Goundar of the Pacific Regional Maritime Programme also wrote “Captain Carol Dunlop: Fiji’s First Female Sea-going Captain,” in Regional Maritime Programme Newsletter (2006). This publication carries the news of the formation of the Pacific Women in Maritime Association (PacWIMA) in 2005 (http://www.spc.int/maritime).

(13.) UNCTAD, Establishment or Expansion of Merchant Marines in Developing Countries, TD/26/Rev 1 (1968); United Nations, Convention on a Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences, NYTD/Code/13/1974.

(14.) Captains of every ship must deposit a crew list on entering and leaving a port. Sometimes these can be accessed, as in this example and others referred to in chapter 11. I am grateful also to John MacLennan, chief executive of the Pacific Forum Line, for access to PFL crew lists and other information.

(15.) Tony Nightingale, The Pacific Forum Line (Christchurch, New Zealand: Glestory Press, 1998), 111.