New boat lifeline for remote villages

01:00, Jun 27 2013
Morobe Rainforest
MULTI-PURPOSE: Nelson-built Morobe Rainforest can carry 120 passengers and 60 tonnes of freight.

One of the biggest and most complex multipurpose boats ever built in Nelson was launched on the high tide at midnight last night and will soon be serving thousands of villagers on a remote part of the Papua-New Guinea coastline.

Challenge Marine managing director Nevil Basalaj has previously built a bigger vessel for a North Island tourism operator but said there was a special satisfaction in seeing the 30-metre Morobe Rainforest go into the water.

Mr Basalaj spent a week on the Marobe coastline in 2010 with government minister Sasa Zebe, whose dream has been realised with the boat's launch.

Morobe Rainforest
BEACH LANDINGS: The vessel features a bow door-ramp and can land people and cargo on the beach.

"I stood in front of thousands of people and promised I would deliver this to them. We've come through, and it's very humbling."

The villagers lived in huts with no power and no road links. The Marobe Rainforest, which will carry passengers and cargo, would change their lives, Mr Basalaj said.

"As soon as you get out of the two main ports there's nothing - no wharves, no jetties, nothing."

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There were some large boats working the coast but often the people travelled and moved their cargo on "banana-boats with outboards - hence they have a lot of tragedies", he said.

"It's a stimulus to growth for these people because they'll be able to get their goods to market. It's extremely satisfying."

A team of up to 25 worked on the two-year $5 million project, which resulted from a marketing push by Challenge and NZ Boat Sales. Nelson designer Richard McBride was engaged to design a boat to meet the multiple needs of the villagers on the Morobe Coast.

Mr Basalaj said meeting them in 2010 gave him the chance to learn what they needed and to assess the coast.

"I realised there were special needs that we could help with - for example fish were spoiling before they got to market so we have a 10-tonne fish hold, and a three-tonne-per-day ice maker that means the vessel can bring ice to the villages for general food storage where there's no electricity."

The aluminium boat can carry 120 passengers, 60 tonnes of freight and will have a crew of six. There are standard passenger cabins, a crew cabin, captain's cabin, a VIP cabin, a shop and medical clinic.

Crops can be stored in a coolstore and the main freight deck can carry general deck cargo, livestock, a vehicle, an excavator or a shipping container. There is a dangerous goods store, and a five-tonne crane.

It was "a mighty challenge" to fit all that into a 30-metre boat, Mr Basalaj said. "We have designed her to land directly on the beach with a large bow door-ramp, like a landing craft," he said.

Maximum speed is 14 knots, delivered by twin diesel engines with fixed propellers, protected by two strong keels. Safety equipment includes liferaft capacity for 150 people and a 4.2-metre rescue boat.

The Morobe Rainforest was launched directly from the Challenge yard in Akersten St and Mr Basalaj said it was fantastic to see it on the water.

"We needed a king tide. It was an amazing sight and pretty exciting for the whole team."

Mr Basalaj is hopeful that this project will lead to more and NZ Boat Sales spokesman Pat Holmes said he was optimistic.

"Seeing the Morobe Rainforest go from conception through to construction has been incredible and has provided the perfect marketing tool," he said. "We'll be bringing people here to Nelson to see it in the final on-water stages and we're confident there will be more orders."

The boat will undergo sea trials in Nelson. Delivery is scheduled for next month.

The Nelson Mail