While the Solomon Islands Ports Authority SIPA mission statement emphasizes that it strives to provide services for customers, its run-down refueling jetty at the Point Cruz wharf has long been a source of frustration for users.
An interview with three local shipping operators revealed their anger over the jetty, saying that by now, SIPA should have repaired and expanded the refueling wharf to cater for the increased number of vessels servicing the country.
One of the shipping operators who spoke on condition of anonymity, who owns larger vessels, said that the jetty cannot cater for his vessels. Not only that, the jetty has failed to meet the demand even from smaller, local vessels, said the shipping operator.
Uta shipping and Isabel Development Shipping companies were also interviewed and both shared the same concern relating to the refueling jetty.
Operation Manager of Uta Shipping company was also interviewed and the operation manager shared the same sentiments that the refueling jetty is running down and highlighted that it is a pure negligence from the responsible authority.
Meanwhile the Accountant at IDC Shipping Company confirmed that in a month more than SBD$50,000 to SBD$80,000 were paid to SIPA for the berthing fees.
According to the Solomon Islands Maritime Association (SIMA) a total of 293 registered vessels are operating in the country. With the increased traffic reflected in SIPA’s Port tariffs in 2015, cargo operations had increased from 300 to 400 percent from the previous years.
According to the shipowners, the failure to upgrade the refueling jetty is questionable given the increase in SIPA’s tariffs. SIPA was criticised in the Auditor General’s report on the 2013 Financial Statements that was audited in 2016 for breaching the Public Finance and Audit Act and the State-Owned Enterprises Act.
SIPA is required by law to submit its audited financial statements to the Minister responsible for Infrastructure Development before 31st December of each year. In this case the 2013 Auditor-General’s report stated that “the management signed financial statements were not presented to me (Auditor General) until 11 October 2016”.
Because of the inadequate size of the jetty and insufficient capacity, coupled with increasing demand by vessels, the normal business hours of shipping companies have been affected, especially expected departure times. This has resulted in increased costs. Furthermore, the absence of a jetty fender at the concerned wharf is seen as a danger for its users.
Another local ship operator said that queuing up for refueling is time consuming. It presents a real problem for the local vessels as larger vessels take time to refuel, while the smaller vessels have to wait.
The shipping operators feel that with the “high” berthing fees charged on local shipping operators, at least an improvement to the fueling jetty is expected from SIPA. The operators questioned where the berthing fees had gone.
SIPA is charging all ship owners berthing fees according to the length per meter of a vessel and the number of hours a vessel was berthed at the Point Cruz wharves.
Another of the ship operators interviewed said vessel owners and operators would spend up to SBD$100,000 a month, depending on the length of vessels berthed at the SIPA wharves.
SIPA’s mission statement also states that it is providing a bridge for commerce and trade to other countries, thereby making them an important factor in the country’s economic development.
But the shipping operators insist that the run-down refuel ling jetty has rendered this statement insignificant. They therefore call on the Ports Authority to quickly fix the wharf to reflect well on their mission statement.
It is understood that the Ports Authority is undertaking a physical and administrative revamp, with consultants from Singapore having reviewed all aspects of the physical ports development, tariffs, processes and administration operations.
Though access roads are being repaired and upgraded with new lighting facilities now being under construction at the Point Cruz wharf area to cater for 30 meter turrets, container equipment to complement new piers being ordered, the only refueling jetty in Honiara seems to be totally forgotten.
Meanwhile, SIPA Chief Executive Officer Eranda Kotelawala said a number of steps will have to be considered before repairing the Island Jetty (refueling jetty concerned), one of which is the safe relocation of fueling pipes to another jetty.
“We do not own the fuel pipelines, they’re owned by the fuel companies and we are now working with them to relocate them before we undertake any repairs,” he said.
He adds, “the Island jetty will be rebuilt soon and we have done the structural designs with BECA consultants. These works cannot be done overnight as they take time and lots of ground work is needed. Further, we have done necessary designs for four new jetties for the domestic port service”.
BECA Group Limited is an employee-owned engineering and management consultancy service company predominately within the Asia-Pacific region. Its headquarters are located in Auckland, New Zealand, however, it operates from three main hubs: Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.
Mr. Kotelawala said funds have already been allocated for this financial year to commence the work.
“We need to understand that relocation of fuel lines needs careful
planning and minimize disruption to daily operations. In the meantime, we need to maintain eight jetties and it costs a lot of money and time”, he said.
The SIPA CEO said the domestic revenue is not substantial for all these repair works and they pump money from their international operations as they consider the domestic port as a social obligation than a revenue generator.
He said SIPA has invested six million dollars to upgrade lighting for the domestic port which will be commissioned soon and a new waiting shed is also in the making for the domestic port this year.
The CEO also denied the statement made by the Auditor General in his report on the 2013 SIPA financial statements that were audited in 2016.
“I don’t understand who mentioned that SIPA didn’t produce financial statements? After taking office, we have presented audited financial records to our line Ministry from 2012 to 2017. We are now preparing the 2018 reports”, he said.
“Someone is propagating wrong information to damage the name of the country’s most profitable State-Owned Enterprise. Today SIPA is one of the most profitable SOEs in the Pacific region from a negative balance sheet some years ago”, Mr. Kotelawala said.
The Ports CEO said all the financial statements produced through their external auditors (KPMG) goes through the Office of the Auditor General.
“I am pretty surprised to hear this. We cannot produce financial reports without the AG’s approval”, said Mr. Kotelawala.
By: Rickson J Bau and Jennifer Kusapa