Ferry contract angers boatbuilders

An $8 million contract to build a ferry has been awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) to a Bangladesh company, outraging New Zealand shipbuilders.

It will be the first purpose-built ferry serving Tokelau, New Zealand's three-atoll territory two days sailing from Samoa and home to 1200 people.

The 43-metre long ship will feature kites to supplement power.

Designed by Danish firm Knud E Hansen, it will be built by Western Marine Shipyard in Chittagong.

New Zealand's Marine Industry Association has accused MFAT of not considering the economic gain of building the vessel in New Zealand.

"We believe the Government's procurement requirements are fundamentally flawed as the process does not factor in the economic gain to the country of buying 'New Zealand made' versus importing," Peter Busfield, executive director of NZ Marine, says.

Several New Zealand companies have the capabilities to build the specified ferry, particularly Nelson's Aimex Service Group which could have done if for $14m to $15m.

Busfield said MFAT told Aimex that unless it could provide a quote in the region of $9.5m to $10m it was wasting its time.

Economic advisers Market Economics had advised that the Government procuring a vessel from New Zealand for the sum of $14m would generate an additional $9m in GDP and sustain the equivalent of 127 employees for one year.

Busfield said he had written to Foreign Minister Murray McCully criticising the decision.

A New Zealand boatbuilder would have "high standards of health and safety in the work force, human rights and other protective rights for employees", Busfield said.

Instead, the contract was going to Bangladesh "that has very little in this regard and is also likely to be paying employees less than $5 per day".

Tokelau has no harbour or airport. Visiting ships have to stand off the reef and unload passengers and freight on lighters that shoot through the dangerously exposed reefs.

The voyage between Samoa and the atolls of Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofu is often dangerous.

In 1955 the ship Joyita with 25 people sailed from Apia but never arrived. Its waterlogged haul was later found near Fiji but the fate of the passengers was never established.

More recently the voyage has been carried out using a chartered Samoan ferry, Lady Naomi, or the vulnerable, open-decked MV Tokelau.

After the Tongan ferry Princess Ashika sank in 2009 with the loss of 74 people, MFAT acted to improve safety on the Tokelau run.

Lady Naomi and a former oil rig supply boat, Matua, do the run now.

Knud E Hansen says the new ferry will carry up to 60 passengers in addition to 50 tonnes of cargo and supplies. With a design speed of 21kmh, the 500-kilometre voyage will take just under 24 hours.

Western Marine managing director Sakhawat Hossain told the Daily Star that it was the first time the company had won a contract from a government.

"By securing an order from New Zealand for the first time, the industry has stepped into the market for the Pacific," he said.

"A unique feature that will be incorporated into the ship is the use of wind power through the use of aerodynamically efficient marine kites from Skysails Hamburg."

Fairfax Media