RMI canoes feature in Forum talks

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine and Foreign Minister John Silk in Tuvalu this week for the 50th Pacific Islands Forum leaders summit. Photo: Kelly Lorennij.


The Micronesian region is transitioning to sustainable ocean transport for inter-island services, a move that is spearheaded by the Micronesian Center for Sustainable Transport that is based in the University of the South Pacific in the Marshall Islands.

The Center’s Michael Traut outlined the steps that are being taken to make this transition during a Sautalaga dialogue in Funafuti, Tuvalu Monday prior to the Pacific Island Forum Leaders summit opening the following day. The dialogue had in attendance heads of delegations from almost all the 18 member countries of the Forum including the Marshall Islands delegation headed by President Hilda Heine and Foreign Minister John Silk.

Traut conveyed that while the Center does not have all the answers yet, no one else does either. This is an opportunity to take the lead in low-carbon sea transport, he said. Such a transition is applicable to both ocean and lagoon transport as traditional Marshallese canoes are among the very best designs in the Pacific region. It is important to make sure this existing island technology flourishes, Traut told the leaders.

But technology is only one part of the approach, he added. For instance, making sure that people get the proper training to make sustainable sea transport a reality is a key step in the move away from vessels using polluting fossil fuels.

This gives way to a range of economic and environment opportunities, with the Center’s vision being sustainable and affordable maritime transport for the Pacific leading to improved internal trade connectivity and well-connected island communities. In addition to reducing reliance on imported fossil fuel and greater energy security, he continued, service delivery and disaster response capabilities will also be enhanced in maritime communities. This also includes the $2 million Cerulean Project, in partnership with Swire Shipping, which will identify a Pacific trade route and launch a trial run of about two years.

Success will lead to replication in other parts of the region. Also in the pipeline is a floating health care clinic that will allow sailing vessel rotations to outer islands, transporting medical personnel to remote islands.

Such a vision leads to transport policy work on the global and regional stages, and, eventually, implementation as well as governance capacity – which make up a $30 million grant program. Infrastructure development and deployment requires $100 million for proof of a five-year concept phase and an additional five years for a pilot project phase that will include a holistic focus aligned with national priorities.

The next step lies in the Pacific Blue Shipping Partnership. By September a detailed concept note will outline the technology pathway, governance and institutional structures and financial models, said Traut. This will be in time for the global climate summit in December where formal intergovernmental agreements, assignments of responsibilities and due diligence will be formalized at the high-level panel in the call for action.

Upon hearing of the canoe races hosted in the Marshalls that were highlighted as carbon-free and locally made, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga requested if Tuvalu can be supplied with such “beautiful” canoes. The solution we have is almost perfect, Traut answered, but it is one of the outcomes they hope to achieve, that there will be such environment-friendly service for all those in the Pacific and, perhaps, beyond.

Read more about this in the August 16, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.