FISA failed to check out MV Niuvakai properly before paying over the odds, says Ombudsman

Mahino ‘eni ‘a e tō nounou lahi ‘i he kautaha vaka FISA ‘i hono fakatau ‘o e vaka Niuvākai ‘a e ongo Manilala’ ‘aki ha mahu’inga ne fu’u lahi mei liunga tolu ia he mahu’inga ma’ama’a ne tonu ke fakatau’aki ‘a e vaka’ ni. Talu hono muimui’i mai ‘e he Kaniva’ ‘a e fakatau ko ‘eni mei he 2014 mo hono toutou faka’eke ki he kau ma’u mafai ‘o e FISA ‘a e ‘uhinga totonu ne fai ai ‘a e fakatau vaka’ mo hono tala mai pe ko e vaka lelei pea na’e tonu pe hono fakatau ke ne fetuku ‘a e fua ‘o e fonua’ ki Ha’amoa mo Fisi. Na’e ‘ikai lava ‘e he vaka’ ni ‘o fai ‘a e fatongia ko ia’. 'Osi pe hono fakatau' kuo hā mai 'a e lahi ‘ene palopalema’ pea iku ‘o tu’uaki fakatau atu 'osi pe ha ta'u 'e tolu ka kuo totongi e miliona Tonga ia ki he ongo Manilala. Na’e mama mai foki ha ‘imeili ia ‘a e Minisitā Pa’anga ki mu’a 'o ma'u 'e he Kaniva’. Ne mahino ai ‘a ‘ene feinga ke fakatau ‘a e vaka’ ke totongi’aki ‘a e nō ‘a e ongo Manilala’ ‘i Nu’u Sila. ne 'osi ai mo e kautaha 'i Nu'u Sila' ni ne tu'uaki ki ai 'a e Niuvākai, 'a ia ne ui taimi ko ia' ko e St Theresa, ka ne nau kalo ko e tu'unga ma'olalo ne 'i ai 'a e vaka'. Toki ha’u ‘eni ‘a e ‘Omipatimeni’ o fakamahino mai na’e ‘osi lipooti ‘a e ngaahi mama mo maumau ‘e 17 ‘i he vaka’ ki he FISA ka ne kei tutui pe kau ma’u mafai’ ‘oku fe’unga pe ke fakatau. Na’e fakamaatoato mo’oni hono fokotu’utu’u e polōseki ke uta e fua ‘o e fonua’ ki Ha’amoa’ pe na’e ‘ai hake pe ia ‘i ha fakakaukau ‘a ha ni’ihi ke hū ai ‘a e tila fakatau vaka ko ‘eni? Tau tuku atu ia ki he FISA ke nau tali mai e fehu’i’ ni.

A New Zealand-based marine surveyor identified 17 deficiencies in the MV Niuvakai before Tonga’s national shipping line paid three times what the 34 year- old vessel was worth.

The revelation come in a detailed statement from Tonga’s Ombudsman who released the information in the wake of yesterday’s press conference on his investigation into allegations of impropriety made by Kele’a newspaper.

The Ombudsman said the Friendly Island Shipping Agency’s board had failed to conduct a proper evaluation of the vessel.

The allegation about the ship appeared in Kele’a in Tongan: “Mahalo ‘oku ‘ikai loto  ‘a Clive ia ke ta’ofi ‘a e ngaahi fu’u pau’u  ‘oku fakahoko  ‘e he kau memipa  ‘o e poate pea ka ‘ikai  ‘oku ne poupou’i  pe  ‘e ia  ‘a e   founga fakatakaka  ko  ‘eni.  Hange  ko hono fakatau  mai  ‘e  he  FISA  ‘a  e fu’u  vaka  ko e Niuvakai ‘aia na’e miliona neongo ko hono mahu’inga totonu ‘oku si’i ‘aupito ia ai. “

As Kaniva news reported yesterday, Ombudsman ‘Aisea H. Taumoepeau said that in February 2014, Pacific Royale Shipping sold a vessel to Friendly Island Shipping Agency for NZ$936,500.  The vessel was then renamed the MV Niuvakai

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In April 2017, three years after the purchase of the vessel, New Zealand Marine Brokers inspected and evaluated the MV Niuvakai as worth NZ$350,000.

In 2013 Pacific Royale Shipping, the  owners of the MV St Theresa, put forward a business proposal to FISA to consider buying the ship.

At the time the Cabinet Economic Development Committee was looking at increasing primary exports to the neighbouring islands Fiji, Wallis, Samoa, American Samoa and Tuvalu and also to increase shipping runs to the northern islands of Tonga.

FISA had carried out a comparability exercise comparing criteria and prices, in particular between MV Baltic and MV St Theresa.

Found wanting

Dunsford Marine inspected the vessel on January 21-22, 2014, during which it identified 17 deficiencies. MV St Theresa was found wanting in most capabilities.

The purchase went ahead despite these findings.

On April 5, 2017, three years after the purchase of the vessel, New Zealand Marine Brokers inspected and evaluated the MV Niuvakai as worth NZ$350,000.

The Ombudsman said there was no evidence that the vessel was independently valued before it was purchased by FISA except for the comparative exercise made with the MV Baltic.

“It was not clear whether FISA wanted a further valuation or were satisfied with information presented to them,” the Ombudsman said.

The Dunsford Marine report said: “It is noted that even if the MV Theresa complies with the criteria that FISA requires we would still need to conduct a thorough due diligence to ensure that the proffered information is verified.”

The report expressed deep concern on the viability of buying the MV St Theresa.

The Ombudsman said a later report from Dunsford Marine, carried out after the agreement to buy the vessel had been signed clearly showed deficiencies about the vessel which were not revealed by her owners. The report from New Zealand Marine Brokers, made in 2017, highlighted more problems.

Controversy

The purchase of the MV Niuvakai was surrounded by controversy, not least because it was surrounded by financial complications.

In March 2014 we published details of an e-mail from former Finance Minister Lisiate ‘Akolo which revealed that the Tongan government had urged a potential buyer of the former St Theresa to help pay the owners’ loan with their bank in New Zealand.

The vessel was owned by the Ramanlal brothers, who were close friends of the late King George V while he was Crown Prince and then when he became king.

In 2017 Kaniva news reported that the Niuvakai had been put up for sale.

The MV Niuvakai became a financial liability after it became clear there were not enough goods to export.

The vessel was unable to lift the 20 foot (six metre) containers typically used for shipping with its deck crane and was deemed to be unprofitable on voyages lasting more than three days.

The main points

  • A New Zealand-based marine surveyor identified 17 deficiencies in the MV Niuvakai before Tonga’s national shipping line paid three times what the 34 year- old vessel was worth.
  • The revelation come in a detailed statement from Tonga’s Ombudsman who released the information in the wake of yesterday’s press conference on his investigation into allegations of impropriety made by Kele’a newspaper.
  • The Ombudsman said the Friendly Island Shipping Agency’ board had failed to conduct a proper evaluation of the vessel.

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