By EDDIE OSIFELO
In a significant effort to address the pressing needs of the remote island of Sikaiana in Malaita Outer Islands, MV Ortega, owned by Kii Shipping, completed its twelfth monthly trip yesterday.
The Franchise Shipping scheme, overseen by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development (MID), facilitated this vital connection.
The MID’s decision to award a one-year contract to Kii Shipping followed a critical situation in October 2022 when the 200 Polynesia residents of Sikaiana faced eight months without shipping services, leading to severe food shortages.
Lawinter Kii, owner of Kii Shipping, acknowledged the pivotal role of the Franchise Shipping scheme in supporting both the company and the island’s inhabitants, emphasizing the uneconomical nature of the route.
He highlighted that the scheme played a crucial role in offsetting fuel costs, as the number of passengers and cargo for Sikaiana was limited.
“Sometimes, only 20 to 50 people travel on the ship with cargo,” Kii explained, noting that the scheme helped cover the financial gap incurred while servicing the remote island.
“For example, if the cost is $200,000 and I make a profit of $170,000, the scheme will cover the remaining $30,000,” he added.
However, Kii cautioned that if private shipping companies were to service Sikaiana without subsidies, the challenging economics of the route and high fuel costs might discourage continued operations.
He stressed the importance of the Franchise Shipping scheme in ensuring the sustainability of such critical lifelines.
Sikaiana, a vulnerable community in the Solomon Islands already grappling with the impacts of climate change, faced additional hardships due to the lack of consistent shipping services in the past.
Insufficient access to medicines and the closure of schools, as children accompanied their parents in search of food on smaller islets, underscored the profound impact of the shipping challenges on the daily lives of Sikaiana’s residents.