Students stranded for months as gov’t could not afford hiring ferries for Niuas

Students and teachers from the Niuas have had no means of travelling to Tongatapu to attend schools for months.

The islanders are short of goods in the shops and petrol because there has been no ferry service to the outer islands since December.

MV ‘Otuanga’ofa in Auckland, NZ. Photo/Kaniva Tonga News

The government has been accused of disregarding the welfare of the people of the two Niuas.

The government’s sole interisland ferry, MV ‘Otuanga’ofa, has been in New Zealand for  maintenance for six months. The Niuas’ -owned MV Kelesi is in Fiji for maintenance and is expected to return to Tonga next week.

The Hu’akavameiliku government cannot afford to hire the ‘Eua ferry or the MV Vaomapa to take over the services.

The Niuas’ MP Vatau Hui told Kaniva News the government could only offer TP$30,000 to hire the‘Eua ferry but the shipping service has declined it. Hon. Hui said the shipping service’s fee was TP$60,000.

He said he also approached the MV Vaomapa’s owners, but its fee was more than $300,000. The government refused to pay that amount.

Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku has been contacted for comment.

All schools opened on February 6.  

Former MP for the Niuas, Lepolo Taunisila has criticised the government for their lack of actions.

She questioned whether the government still lived by its campaign slogan “Make sure no one is left behind”.

The Minister of Transport announced the ‘Otuanga’ofa was expected to arrive in Tonga on February 14. Kaniva News understands the ferry is still docked at an Auckland wharf this evening.

Complaints over the loss of the ferry services come as Tonga faces a crisis over aviation links.

There have been many flight cancellations and delays due to lack of pilots and aircraft breakdowns.

The Australian government offered to step in and pay for Fiji Airways to take over services run by the government’s controversial Lulutai airline until June.

The two Niuas referred to the islands of Niuafo’ou and Niuatoputapu.

The Niuas are regarded as one of the most isolated islands in the world.

A vessel from Tongatapu arrives at the islands once a month with passengers, goods for the shops, petrol and mail.

Located in the north of the kingdom, they are the furthest islands from the mainland, Tongatapu, where the capital city Nuku’alofa is located.

The two islands are more than 500 km away from Tongatapu. According to the 2021 census they each has a population of less than 700.

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