• By Joyce McClure

Yap's broken vessel leaves Outer Islands' residents marooned

MV Haplimohol 1 Photo by Joyce McClure

Colonia, Yap --The MV Haplimohol 1 is once again lying idle at the dock in Colonia awaiting parts and repair while residents of Yap’s Outer Islands are forced to wait for transportation and cargo. This time, two of the ships’ three generators that were installed during dry docking in the Philippines in 2018 are now disabled.

In the meantime, residents of Yap’s Outer Islands who need to get to the main island for school, medical treatment, or are ready to return to their home islands, are stuck. The only other option is via air service on PMA’s small plane, which only flies to islands with runways such as Ulithi, Fais and Wolaei, or booking passage on the two Okeanos vaka canoes.

Although the vakas may, depending on good strong winds, be faster and more reliable than the hulking MVH1, both are restricted in the number of passengers and amount of cargo they can transport.

Traveling to the remote outer islands of Yap State on the far western edge of the Federated States of Micronesia is challenging for the state’s citizens who live there.

Yap Gov. Henry Falan is trying to get a new ship that’s better equipped for the long voyages carrying passengers and cargo to the remote islands that span eastward from the main island for 600 miles.

The vessel was on its recent voyage to Yap’s Outer Islands in mid-July when it experienced problems with the generators and was forced to anchor in Woleai Lagoon. It waited there until late August before being “escorted back to port on the main island” by the MV Micronesian Navigators that was sent by order of President David Panuelo in response to Falan’s official request.

On Sept. 24, Falan sent a letter to the president thanking him for dispatching the MV Micronesian Navigators to rescue the MV Haplimohol 1 when it became disabled and had to safely anchor in Woleai lagoon due to malfunctioned generators on board.

In the same letter, Falan reiterated his earlier recommendation for the national government and Yap state government to work together on finalizing the plan "to acquire a most suitable" passenger-cargo vessel for Yap, through assistance from donors and bilateral partners.

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Falan reminded the president that he has sent two official letters in this regard, first on Sept. 27, 2019 and again on Dec. 6, 2019.

The governor said he has formed a working group to work with the national Department of Transportation Communication & Infrastructure "on the necessary conceptual and naval architectural work of a new vessel that would be suitable for the unique environment and conditions out here.”

The two earlier letters implored the president to include Yap’s working group that is headed by Francis Itimai, the governor’s chief of staff who served as secretary of the FSM DOTC&I where he oversaw maritime and marine transportation development and regulation and was the lead person on the project to acquire the MV Micronesian Navigators.

Charged with working with TC&I staff “to ensure that the same defects and deficiencies are not passed on to this new vessel,” the other members of the task force are Mathias Ewarmai, senior captain and former director of the Fisheries Maritime Institute, Alex Raigelur, senior chief engineer and retired engineering instructor at FMI, and Theo Thinnifel, newly appointed director of Yap State Public Works & Transportation.

Falan has also recommended that the funds and construction of the new ship come and be done in Japan, not China based on the many maintenance and construction problems encountered by the MVH1 and other similar vessels given to FSM by the Chinese government over the years.

In 2015, a proposal for a new ship was submitted by Yap to the national government for consideration for an Office of Development Assistance grant from Japan to design and build a new ship that fits the state’s needs.

That request and design work was referred to the DOTC&I for review by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and has since been sitting with DOTC&I.

The MV Micronesian Navigators was designed and built by the Japanese government for FSM in 2015. The ship’s conceptual and naval architectural designs were approved by the national government and a contractor designated by the Japanese government under Japan General Grant Aid.

Proposals to fund three passenger and cargo vessels were officially transmitted to the Japanese government.

However, when a major tsunami struck northern Japan, the government was compelled to redirect the funds toward recovery efforts. As a result, the Japanese government approved funding for only one vessel for the whole of FSM.

The MVH1 is meant to provide regular, monthly, roundtrip service taking five days or more to reach Woleai, the farthest inhabited island requiring five or more days to reach, with stops between Ulthi, the closest island to the main island, and Satawal, the farthest eastern island. But that service has been disrupted many times over the years as the vessel has experienced a long list of problems since its arrival that have required it to be taken out of service while parts are ordered from abroad, mainly the shipyard in Wuhan, China and installed.

Since the MVH1 was delivered to Yap in 2007, most of the needed engine parts are no longer stocked on the shelves but must be specially fabricated and are becoming very costly.

In 2018, the vessel was sent to dry-dock in the Philippines for an extended period of time for needed repairs under funds from the national government. It was also in need of classification; however, with no classification society in FSM’s region willing to do it, the Philippines Classification Society offered to provide the service while the ship was there. But the former Secretary of DOTC&I, declined their offer.

In his latest letter to Panuelo, Falan stated, “when it left dry-docking in the (Philippines) and stopped in Chuuk to provide field trip service before coming to Yap, it broke down and required retaining the Filipino mechanics on board to fix the problem, even though it had just returned from dry-dock.”

“I would humbly recommend that our two task forces re-jump start their discussions, perhaps through virtual means such as Zoom, since our borders are still closed for travel on the conceptual and naval architectural designs on the new ship for Yap,” Falan said.

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