'Test Rates' for Manu'a cargo do not cover cost of operation

Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga says Port has no authority to set cargo rates

The Department of Port Administration is looking to host a public hearing to be held early next month, seeking public input on the “test rates” for Manu’a cargo, as  lawmakers from the island group - as well as residents - have complained about the rates, saying they are too high.

“The rates put in place since last month, were to test as to the actual cost to operate each sail to Manu’a and how much is needed to cover expenditures - such as fuel, vessel and preparations for each sail,” Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele said during a Samoa News interview yesterday.

She said Port Administration is looking to hold a public hearing in two weeks time - with the exact date and location to be announced soon - to get input on cargo rates for Manu’a sails.

Prior to implementing the test rates last month on June 7th, Port Administration made an official announcement on KVZK-TV, and published a notice in the Samoa News. When the Lolo Administration took office in 2013, cargo rates for Manu’a were suspended while passenger fares were still in place.

The cargo rates have resulted in Manu’a residents voicing complaints to their lawmakers, which prompted separate hearings held late last week in both the Senate and House.

Taimalelagi and Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale were witnesses during the Senate Port Administration/Airport Committee hearing.

Manu’a Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga said that while he is not against cargo rates, the complaints he has been getting is that there are no set fees for shipments - coolers, boxes, and pallets - and the rates seems unfair.

For example, he said a cooler is around $3 and a pallet is a little higher; and Port has imposed an $8 surcharge for each shipment.

With the rates in place, Nuanuaolefeagaiga claims it appears that Port Administration is doing whatever it wants when it comes to serving the Manu’a islands, when the government is to provide equal service to all residents of the territory.

He contends that there is no law that gives Port Administration the authority to set cargo rates the way it’s been done. He sought Talauega’s opinion on Port imposing the cargo rates, to which the Attorney General said that he has not had a chance to discuss the issue with Taimalelagi.

Nuanuaolefeagaiga, at least four times, recommended halting the cargo rates until a public hearing is held, to get public feedback from his constituents. However, he quickly added that Manu’a ocean transportation should still continue.

In response, Taimalelagi first addressed Nuanuaolefeagaiga’s statement that Port Administration is doing whatever it wants on how the rates are set without getting any public input. She said it appears from such statements that Port had not taken into consideration anybody’s view and input from Manu’a.

Taimalelagi said Nuanuaolefeagaiga was the only senator who was presented the original rate proposal, for his input, and Port also sought input from Manu’a lawmakers in the House. She added that their input resulted in the rates being changed from the original proposal.

She reminded Nuanuaolefeagaiga that cargo rates for Manu’a sails were suspended in 2013 and before the new “test rates” were implemented, Port had reviewed three different rate proposals. She said that these are “test rates” which would help determine the actual cost of operating each sail - for example: cost of fuel, crew, and their food.

Regarding the $8 surcharge, Taimalelagi explained that this is considered a “facility fee” and it is collected and set-aside to fund preparations for each sail - covering expenditures such as fuel, forklift service, and Port personnel.

According to the director,  Port wanted to make sure that there is a specific account for the vessel's fuel so they have prior knowledge of funds available before planing a sail to Manu’a.

For example, there was no money to cover fuel for the MV Sili sail early last week and fuel was pumped from the ASG tugboat - the Tatoso - to fuel the MV Sili.

Taimalelagi informed senators that there have been three sails to Manu’a since the current rates were implemented. The first trip collected $4,600; the second sail brought in $4,800 and the third sail netted $5,200.

She explained that the  total cost of operating the vessel for each sail to Manu’a - including costs for fuel, crew and their food, forklift and other expenditures - is about $7,800

She emphasized that the current charges for cargo are only “test rates” to find out the actual amount of money that would be collected in cargo rates for each sail, and also how much it would cost to operate each sail.

Responding to Nuanuaolefeagaiga’s statement that ASG's level of service to Tutuila should be the same for Manu’a residents, Taimalelagi said the important question is where the money going to come from, to operate each sail.

Nuanuaolefeagaiga was very pleased with Taimalelagi’s response but fired back saying the Port is trying to get Manu’a residents to pay for operating the vessel instead of setting firm cargo rates, that are affordable and equal for everyone.

He said there is funding allocated in the annual budget for Manu’a ocean transportation, and trips have ongoing since 2013 without any cargo fees because the government provided that service.

He again called for the halting of current rates and for Taimalelagi and the Attorney General to discuss this matter further so that Manu’a residents are not burdened with the high freight costs.

During a House committee hearing, Taimalelagi gave similar testimony, as to the estimated amount of money needed to operate each sail, and the planned public hearing.

At a cabinet meeting early last month, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga asked Port not to charge too much for cargo to Manu’a. He said that he was given a copy of the sails for June but he has requested to reduce the trips from once a week, down to twice a month.

According to Lolo, the cost of fuel is not cheap to operate the vessel to and from Manu’a.

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