A second look at cost of shipping vehicle to Manu’a — it’s cheaper than 2012 cost
Prior to the Lolo and Lemanu Administration, the cost of shipping a vehicle on the MV Sili from Tutuila to Manu’a was $250 one-way, says Port Administration director, Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele, who acknowledged that shipping to Manu’a had been free between 2013 and 2016.
As reported by Samoa News last Friday, a Port Administration Dec. 13, 2017 general public memo signed by Taimalelagi and posted at the Port facility, notes that effective Jan. 2, 2018, the new rate to ship any private vehicle “one-way between Pago Pago and Manu’a wharves will increase from $135 to $200.”
According to the memo, the high demand for more service deliveries across the board, and most importantly the frequent travel of passengers has created additional trips for Manu’a. “This has made it eminent to thoroughly review this fee and increase accordingly,” it says.
The rate hike didn’t sit well with some Manu’a residents, and House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., said he would inquire with Port regarding the new rate.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries, Taimalelagi said this week that the fee to transport a vehicle in 2012 — prior to the current administration — on the MV Sili was $250 one-way and $500 round trip, making the 2018 rate hike lower than 2012.
“But how many times were we without transportation to Manu'a and had to charter the Fotu from Samoa?” she asked and pointed out that the cost to charter the Fotu of Samoa was $27,000 one way to Manu'a.
Additionally, the “MV Sili was often in need of serious repair but we were not generating revenue,” she explained.
Taimalelagi noted that the administration placed a "temporary hold" on the charges of transportation to Manu'a for three years to stimulate growth and development in Manu'a.
According to the Port director, the $250,000 allocated in the budget barely covers the cost of fuel, and maintenance was minimal, causing the boat to be inoperable for many months.
“We have been conducting a trip almost every week and we still cannot accommodate all the vehicles that go over for two weeks and return,” she said and pointed out that the MV Sili can transport approximately 9 vehicles on a trip and at a cost of $130 - that's $1,170 — which doesn’t cover the cost of fuel, salaries of the crew, food, insurance, maintenance, etc.
“We want to provide safe and consistent transportation to Manu'a. This can only happen if we service the boats regularly and hire good marine engineers,” she said. “Maintenance is costly and good engineers are not cheap.
She also pointed out that the fare for passengers has remained the same.
Taimalelagi’s Dec. 13th memo on the rate hike concluded with “May you have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year,” and some Manu’a residents, who contacted Samoa News last week, commented on the seemingly sarcastic seasons greetings.
In response to Samoa News inquiries, Taimalelagi said the ‘concluding’ message was to Port Administration staff — wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
In his official 94-page State of the Territory Comprehensive Report to the Fono and the federal government, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said surface transportation is continuous through the use of the MV Sili and the MV Manu’atele.
“Although freight charges were waived for four years since 2013 to accommodate the lack of transportation needs and the increasing cost of living for residents of the Manu’a District, ASG has decided to reinstate fees and freight charges with the acquiring of the new Manu’a vessel in 2017, as well as a way to financially maintain both ocean vessels,” the governor said.
Regarding domestic air service, the governor said the Manu’a islands are still being serviced by the Samoa government-owned Samoa Airways, through 30-day cabotage waivers from the US Transportation Department, for both Fitiuta and Ofu airports.
“The Administration is still seeking and exploring other airline services to accommodate this route,” Lolo said.