An innovative project is improving the safety and efficiency of domestic maritime services, spurring rural development in Solomon Islands, and shaping up to be a model for similar projects in the Pacific region.

By the numbers

number of
vessels in
the franchise
shipping scheme
number of
new routes created
by the franchise
shipping scheme
number of seafarers
who passed the
Training and Certification
of Watchkeepers course

Source: TA Completion Report (2012)

Honiara, Solomon Islands─It is 7:30 p.m. and Point Cruz Wharf is surrounded by a sea of people carrying building materials, bags of clothes, and canned goods, waiting to board the M.V. Invader II, a ship bound for Avu Avu on the southern side of Guadalcanal - the main island of the Solomon Islands.

"If the weather is kind, it will take 4 days to get to Avu Avu Port, with eight stops along the way," says Robert Smith Koveke, captain of the M.V. Invader II. Avu Avu is remote, and the route would not be financially viable without government help - financed in part by a grant from ADB.

For passenger Jim Kalia - a frequent traveler on the Invader II, and a science teacher at Avu Avu Secondary School - the new shipping service means considerable financial savings. He used to fly to Honiara, the capital, to go to the market, do his banking, or see a doctor, but the airfare cost $SBD800 ($110), four times the price of the boat fare.

Bringing remote communities together

The country's nearly 1,000 islands have always had trouble staying physically connected with the capital, Honiara, especially the outer islands. This has left many of the country's remote islands with limited access to goods, social services, or markets for their produce.

However, the Domestic Maritime Support Project - financed by the government, ADB, the Australian Aid, the European Union, and the New Zealand Aid Programme - aims to correct this imbalance between the center and the periphery, so that all Solomon Islanders can benefit from the country's economic and social development.

"The trip to Honiara via ship is affordable and saves time."

- Jasper Atilei, a community leader from Aona Village on the Weather Coast

Under the project, the government has established a franchise shipping scheme, in which the government subsidizes private sector shipping operators, who dispatch ships like the Invader II to eight remote areas in Solomon Islands - the Shortland Islands, the Guadalcanal Weather Coast, Temotu, the Makira Weather Coast, Sikaiana, Ontong Java, Rennel, and Ulawa. Without this scheme these remote islands would not have any boat connection to Honiara.

The scheme is bringing new business opportunities for Solomon Islanders. Esther Negoa from the Weather Coast on the western side of Guadalcanal, now travels frequently to Honiara to sell betel nut at a roadside stall. The money she makes helps pay for school fees for her children, food, and clothing.

Jasper Atilei, a community leader from Aona Village on the Weather Coast, also often comes to Honiara aboard the Invader II to visit relatives. He is building a school in Aona, and he uses the trips to buy cement and other materials he needs. Before the new route was established, it took about a week to transport the building materials by foot from Honiara across Guadalcanal Island to his community. Now it takes 2 days.

"The trip to Honiara by ship is affordable and saves time," he says.

Shipping essential services

The franchise shipping scheme also means people from remote islands can more readily get the healthcare they need from hospitals in the bigger towns and cities

"Once a month we bring people who need medical treatment to Honiara. Pregnant women are also regular clients."

- Niel Ishihanua, managing director of S.I.Shipbroker Company Limited

Niel Ishihanua is managing director of S.I. Shipbroker Company Limited, which services the Honiara-Temotu route. "Once a month we bring people who need medical treatment to Honiara," says Ishihanua. "Pregnant women are also regular clients." A round trip takes about 15 days.

Peter Boyers is co-director of Concrete Industries, Solomon Islands - a shipping company in the scheme that serves the Guadalcanal Weather Coast. "Just recently, we transported 40 blind people from Avu Avu Port to Honiara so they could utilize services at the National Referral Hospital," said Boyers. Many of these had cataract removal surgery to improve their vision. "Two weeks later, the same 40 people, their sight restored, boarded the vessel back to Avu Avu. The franchise shipping scheme made that possible."

The scheme is also helping remote islanders access markets and services in Honiara or other larger towns. "No longer are these areas marginalized, and they can take advantage of the services Honiara has to offer," says Kyaw Min Soe, managing director of Pacific Ace Shipping, which runs a route to the Shortland Islands area in the far west of the country.

Access to shipping services

The Domestic Maritime Support Project is also constructing and rehabiliting rural wharves and jetties, making it possible for boats to dock more safely. Niumara in Central Province, for example, previously had no wharf, which made it difficult for many vessels to berth there and dangerous for passengers to get on and off boats.

Muriel Tuma, a teacher from the nearby Siota School, remembers how unsafe it was to carry babies and infants on board. People struggled to load their copra and other agricultural products, and it was dangerous trying to board larger vessels using ladders on the beach at Boromole.

The newly constructed Niumara Wharf opened in January 2013. Says Belaga resident Laisa Mapena, "The new wharf will allow us to get our copra, taro, melons, and other crops from the garden to the market in Honiara."

ADB project officer David Ling calls the shipping scheme a "win-win" for private sector shipping operators and the people of the Solomon Islands, many of whom are taking advantage of shipping services for the first time. And its success in the Solomon Islands is providing a template to improve sea links elsewhere in the Pacific too. The Vanuatu Interisland Shipping Project, cofinanced by ADB, the Government of New Zealand, and the Government of Vanuatu recently approved by ADB, will provide similar services.

But for Joy Ishihanua, also of S.I. Shipbroker, the benefit of the improved shipping services is best seen at festival time. "The holiday periods are the busiest for us," she says, "when people are traveling all around Solomon Islands, visiting family and friends."