After two record-setting years of copra production, the level of “production” collapsed from January to March this year despite the still high 60 cent per pound price. The culprit in the collapse? Lack of ships to collect copra.
In contrast to the previous quarter when 2,102.59 tons were brought in from the outer islands by nine field trips, there were ships available to accomplish only five trips from January to March, resulting in only 802.84 tons being brought into Tobolar Copra Processing Authority — a 60 percent drop in the quarterly production due to shipping.
And the ships with problems?
• MV Tobolar that has no buyers and will soon be taken out and sunk, once the plan is worked out among Shipping, Ports Authority and RMI EPA.
• The newest RMI vessel with a price tag of nearly $1 million, the MV Ribuuk Meto arrived Majuro January 15 and then made an inaugural voyage to Ebeye for a welcome. It has been out of action since, tied up at Delap Dock. Its propeller and hull is experiencing a problem that engineers call “cavitation.” This is a problem that can cause serious damage to mechanical equipment including the propeller. To correct it, Shipping Corporation personnel are fabricating “a device” that will be welded on the hull of the vessel that aims to solve the problem. Shipping hopes to be installing the device in the next few weeks.
• The second newest vessel, the MV Enen Kio has also been out of action for weeks awaiting replacement parts for generator that runs the ship’s engine. The Enen Kio, which arrived in 2019, has had numerous issues that have sidelined it from service.
According to Tobolar, only the MV Aemman, MV Kwajalein and SV Kwai collected copra for Tobolar the first three months of 2021. Both the Kwai and Kwajalein made two trips each.
For the first time in modern history, the RMI and its copra makers — thanks to consistent shipping service — produced the first-ever back-to-back years of over 7,000 ton production in 2019 and 2020 fiscal years. FY2019 saw 7,233 tons produced (with a price of 50 cents per pound) and FY2020 saw 7,505 ton milled by Tobolar (with a price of 60 cents per pound).
With Shipping operating consistently during 2020, the calendar year generated an all-time record copra production of 8,627 tons, breaking the previous calendar year high set in 1970 of 7,348 tons. All four quarters during 2020 saw consistent delivery of copra to Tobolar with close to or over 2,000 tons per quarter.
The first quarter for FY2021 — last October to December — didn’t start out great, with only 162.59 tons collected in October. But November and December ramped up so that the quarter ended with 2,102 tons delivered to Tobolar. But the January to March totals are dismal by comparison with the last three years: only 802.84 tons brought in for three months. If the 802-ton figure was maintained for a year, it would mean only 3,200 tons — that would be one of the lowest years ever and well below the worst year of the 2011-2020 decade when only 4,036 tons were generated in 2011.