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Tongan vessel brings relief to Cook Islanders travelling to the outer islands

Tongan cargo vessel Taka-I-Pomana may be the only hope left for 200-plus Northern Group islanders waiting to travel to their home islands.

The vessel was loaded with necessities destined for the Northern islands - food, jetfuel, gas, cargo etc, sitting at the wharf for several months now. T

The Tongan-owned barge has been chartered by Government to assist transport just under 300 people along with cargo. This follows frustrations with getting passage to the North as a result of tighter safety restrictions imposed by the Ministry of Transport following this year’s tragedy as well as, the lack of transportation to take large items.

The barge will also drop off water tanks for Penrhyn and use their on-board desalination plant to fill up water for the island

Former Penhryn MP, lawyer Wilkie Rasmussen said if the vessel was able to transport such large numbers of people, they would spend New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2020 at sea.

He said some had waited in Rarotonga for up to a month to make the journey to their home islands.

“The New Year should have been celebrated on their respective islands.”

Rasmussen, who will be a passenger himself, said it was an understatement to say the delays in the transportation of Northern group people had turned into a “dreadful nightmare”.

Stories of no ships being available to take Penrhyn people to their island had emerged as far back as October, he said.

“These are people who paid their fares to Taio Shipping Services much earlier, probably before the young Rakahanga child disappeared at sea while returning to Rarotonga from his own island with family on a Taio ship (in September).

 “This was a critical intervening point in Cook Islands inter-island shipping, because the authorities (probably) in fear of lawsuits, banned Tapi Taio's ships from taking passengers – a service Taio Shipping had offered for over 20 years.”

Company director Josh Taio said his father had transported hundreds of people to their home islands each year in Pukapuka, Manihiki, Nassau, Palmerston, Rakahanga and Penryhn, not because he made huge amounts of money, but because he was “driven by love”.

But the days of Taio Shipping being the number one transporter of Northern Group islanders were over, with the option of only being able to transport 12 people on a ship simply not viable, he said.

“The Penrhyn Islanders were left floating in doubt and the authorities dragged their feet until some of these people could no longer afford to stay in Rarotonga.

“They collected their refunded fares from Taio Shipping and left again for New Zealand and Australia.

A large group of around 170 people arrived on the island in November wanting to travel to Pukapuka.

Rasmussen was furious that they were told the first date of departure was before Christmas, but no ship had arrived.

“The second, third and fourth dates of departure have come and gone,” he said.


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