Ships and seafaring are fundamental Pacific traditions, but Pacific Island countries have the most expensive shipping in the world, the longest transport routes, and often the oldest and least energy efficient ships, a report by the Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue (AP4D) notes.
iven that the ocean is the most significant geographical feature of the Blue Pacific continent, access to safe and reliable transport is a crucial societal need and an important enabler for many of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Efficient, safe, affordable and accessible transportation systems not only promote economic productivity and create jobs but can increase access to employment, recreational and other essential life-shaping opportunities that enable people to improve their living conditions and escape poverty. Predictable trade flows facilitated by reliable and timely shipping services contribute to improved food security, especially in remote or outer island communities.
There is a clear, urgent need to upgrade domestic vessels in the region to ensure all Pacific peoples have access to safe maritime transport.
This must be balanced with a regional desire for a fossil fuel free Pacific, which will require decarbonisation of fleets. Some within the region fear that bigger nations will transition to zero or low carbon vessels while leaving the Pacific stranded with aged, inefficient and increasingly expensive-to-operate fleets. The Pacific will need ongoing support from international partners to realise its ambitions for decarbonisation.
While there are commonalities in needs across the region, Pacific Island countries are diverse in personnel, capacity and finances, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all approach to maritime safety in the Pacific. It is crucial that solutions are tailored to specific countries’ circumstances and priorities.
Australia is a committed maritime partner with the Pacific. Improving domestic passenger safety is a priority need for the Pacific that Australia supports – it has a mutual interest in ensuring that the ships in the region are seaworthy, have competent crews and are able to safely navigate through sensitive marine areas.
There is scope for Australia to build on existing programs and strengthen maritime safety in the region by leveraging the expertise and capacity of regional organisations and other partners.
Pathways for Australia to be partner on maritime safety with the Pacific
Access to safe and reliable passenger vessels
- Australia could donate a fleet of modern ferries to the Pacific, modelled on
the Pacific Maritime Security Program patrol boat program.
- Australia could provide support for creating a shipbuilding industry within the Pacific region.
- Australia could work with the Pacific to leverage climate financing to replace or retrofit vessels to create a low or zero carbon fleet.
Support for decarbonisation of shipping in the Pacific
- Australia can work with the Pacific to support the transition to a fossil fuel free Pacific.
- This could include supporting options for zero-emissions cargo transport such as uncrewed surface vessels powered by solar.
- Australia can contribute to common standards across all Pacific Island countries to access Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) for safety purposes through expanding the use of MDA platforms.
- Australia can provide support, bilaterally or through regional organisations, to implement the IMO Model Regulations on Domestic Ferry Safety.
- Australia can support regulatory reform across the Pacific, sharing lessons learned from its involvement in the development of PNG’s Small Craft Act.
Donor-coordination and strengthened partnerships
- Australia can support efforts to use climate financing to provide the funding and investment in secure and safe shipping.
- Australia should support strong partnerships between key agencies to maximise available resources and improve donor coordination.
- There is scope for Australia to partner with New Zealand to replicate the Pacific Maritime Safety Program in countries which are not currently covered.
- Australia should consider providing long-term and consistent funding for the SPC Pacific Domestic Ships Safety program, ensuring adequate support and resourcing for key programs.
Private sector engagement
- Australia can partner with the private sector to encourage investment in transport and servicing centres and support service organisations to establish a presence in the region.
- Australia can support capacity development and training to deliver the skills needed to address each country’s own unique safety challenges through partnering with regional and international organisations.
- Existing successful programs should be offered to the rest of the Pacific.