Mataliki’s maiden passenger voyage: plain sailing from Apia

The new ferry Mataliki made its first voyage to Tokelau and back again, on 2 and 13 March. This allowed its 60 passengers from Apia to attend the General Fono (Parliament session) in Fakaofo. A few roundtrips within Tokelau also made it possible for the villagers from Nukunonu and Atafu to participate in the events surrounding the General Fono: the inauguration of the new Ulu o Tokelau (see story in last Saturday’s Samoa Observer newspaper), and the blessing of the ship in Tokelau itself.

Unlike sailing on its predecessors MV Tokelau and PV Matua, the boat ride on Mataliki was smooth and relatively swift. Compared to the chartered alternatives Lady Naomi and Fasefulu it was also spacious and comfortable for all on board ship. The Mataliki took only 23 hours to cover the 500 km distance, whereas some passengers who returned on the freight charter Fasefulu would need the patience for a 33-hour voyage.
HandoverSamObs26feb16-300 Only a month ago had the purpose-built ferry arrived in Apia from the shipping yards in Bangladesh. This gift from New Zealand to the Tokelau people had been handed over in a special function in Apia by the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Murray McCully on 25 February.

NZ High Commissioner Jackie Frizelle, UNDP Representative Lizbeth Cullity, NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully, and the previous Ulu o Tokelau, Aliki Faipule Siopili Perez, aboard the Mataliki. [Samoa Observer photo]
AsofaFereti2mar16jj-300 Since then some final touches have completed the ship’s functionality, under the watchful eye of Transport Director Asofa Fereti. Delivery of the vessel was his swan song with the Tokelau Apia Liaison Office (TALO), before taking up his new role as General Manager of Samoa Ports Authority.
Ruby Faumaona (left) and  Taufau Leuta attending to the paperwork and issuing boarding passes.
3 March 2016. Early in the morning of departure for the maiden voyage, staff of TALO’s transport department took care of the formalities of international travel: Passports checked, Samoa Customs departure cards taken in, and boarding passes issued.

Above:Passenger deck where travellers make themselves comfortable for the 24-hour journey.

Right: Safety briefing before departure
Once boarded, the passengers quickly found their place on the ship: in one of the two 12-berth rooms, in the airplane-seated TV-lounge, or on the roofed passenger deck where mattresses were laid out for comfort during the long trip. Not until a safety briefing was held and the fitting of life jackets demonstrated, did the ship head for the Apia Harbour entrance.

LeavingApia-KeleLui-188        SmokersCorner-250        BlessMataliki06-188

Above: Leaving Apia Harbour; Smokers' corner; and TV lounge
Despite the relative comfort, 23 hours is still a very long time aboard any ferry, even if three meals a day and hot drinks are served (on reusable plates and tin mugs – an environmentally friendly improvement on the disposable plates and cups used elsewhere). Most passengers were relieved to see their destination appear on the horizon - which during most of the trip had shown nothing but the blue yonder.
Ship to shore in Fakaofo, across the fringe reef.

As none of the ferries can enter the fringe reef that surrounds the atolls, people and freight have to be carried on land by a barge. It’s safety first, and all passengers had to wear life jackets for the ship-to-shore transport. It was good to have solid ground underfoot again, even if the weather and sea had been blissfully calm.
And so it would be on the return voyage from the village to the ferry, only to be back in Samoa about 24 hours’ sailing later, on 13 March. All on board agreed: The Mataliki is a great ship and a massive improvement for sea travel to and from remote Tokelau to its nearest harbour Apia…. If only we could fly there!
Story and pictures by Jaap (‘iapi”) Jasperse