Colonia,— After a second long term in drydock, the Hapilmohol 1, better known as the H1, is about to re-start its service, hauling people and freight to the Outer Islands.
The Hapilmohol 1 awaits her inaugural departure to Yap's Outer Islands. Photo by Joyce McClure
Political leaders, including Federated States of Micronesia President Peter Christian and outgoing Yap Gov. Tony Ganngiyan had a luncheon to celebrate the turnover of the ship from the FSM Congress to Yap.
Christian said people elsewhere, “do not understand how we survive. In other countries, highways are the means to transport people.” But here in Micronesia, “ships are our highways.” And that’s why he calls the ship H1 for or “Highway 1.”
H1 may be vital, but it’s been out of service a lot.
In 2012, it was reported the H1 had returned from China after a lengthy dry-docking for repairs and refitting. It is not apparent why the ship was returned to dry dock a few short years later, but according to Governor Ganngiyan, it soon developed problems. At one point, scrapping the ship was considered.
In the run-up to the Yap gubernatorial and senatorial election, Ganngiyan and his running mate, Francis Itimai, posted the following message on Facebook as part of their campaign: “For our sea transportation needs, we are happy to underscore that our ship the Haplimahol 1 (H1) (sic) with the generous assistance of our National Government is finishing up her dry=dock (sic) repair and maintenance work in the Philippines next week and will be steaming back home to resume her field trip services to our neighboring islands.” Meanwhile, the candidates said they were asking the Chinese to eventually replace H1.
The journey of the H1 and its sister ships up to this point has not been without significant challenges and there may be more as the aging, albeit upgraded and refitted vessel resumes its workhorse schedule to the OI.
In 2013, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency offered a proposal to help provide the FSM with “modern, safe and efficient inter-state and inter-island cargo passenger vessels.” Previously, a Japanese grant had given the FSM five vessels, including the H1.
More than 35 years earlier, between 1976 and 1978, the proposal observes, “the shipping services in the FSM were prospering with five vessels...procured under [a] Japanese Grant Aid Scheme” by the National and State governments.”
Another Japanese-built field trip ship provided to the FSM, The Four Winds, was dedicated in Pohnpei on Apr. 29, 2015.
But by 2013, the “aging and subsequent retirement” of the original five ships was anticipated. A sixth vessel, the Caroline Voyager, joined the fleet but the original five ships, including the H1, “became inoperable one after another after 2002 due to deterioration and submersion.” By 2005, the five were taken out of service, leaving the people who lived on the remote atolls and islands with no way to get medical care, education, and other critical services. Today, approximately 800 people from those Outer Islands live on the main island, many on land provided by the state for a settlement.
The one remaining ship, the C/V, had no choice but to “transport much more passengers than the licensed passenger capacity,” especially after school holidays when students returned to their classrooms on the main island. In addition, since service was with only one vessel, the need to make repairs when in home port was critical but decreased the time the hard-working ship was servicing the remote islands. One conclusion noted in the JICA proposal was, “While two vessels were provided under the Chinese grant aid scheme in 2004 and 2007, they cannot offset the lowering of the maritime transport functions because of frequent breakdowns.” Those two ships were the H1 that served Yap and the Chief Malio that served Chuuk. But the condition of the H1 was noted in the JICA proposal as “poor” and the Chief Malio as “poor, repairing.” The Chief Malio had been taken out of service in 2005, just one year after it was given to FSM by China.
In the 12-month period between October 2010 and October 2011, the C/V was working overtime trying to close the gap left when the other ships were mothballed. She was serving the four state capitals and their outer islands. During a total of 16 voyages that year, 11 exceeded the ship’ licensed capacity of 150 passengers. Research showed that the maximum number of passengers on board during that year was 573 passengers, nearly four times the ship’s capacity, and cargo volume was around one-fourth of the ship’s deadweight tonnage. Further, the research cited in the proposal noted that the ship “is obliged to operate about 250 days per year.” Adequate time for maintenance was suffering and raised fears of “crucial equipment failures,” The proposal stated emphatically that “it is urgently required to procure a new cargo passenger vessel in order to establish a safe domestic operational structure in the FSM” that could provide parallel service to the C/V and absorb the untenable load.
In 2010, the FSM government asked Japan to procure a cargo passenger vessel to increase capacity. The C/V was 15 years old by then and showing her age. Her future was in jeopardy. FSM also made a request to Japan for a preventive maintenance policy and spare parts. Up to that time, it appears there were none. Based on the research conducted by JICA, a design study was provided for a second vessel that would be “designed and constructed to realize navigation safety, onboard comfort, environment friendliness, fuel economy...” Japan would provide the ship using grant aid. The M/V Four Winds was dedicated in Pohnpei on Apr. 29, 2015.
Enter China’s ODA.
The retired H1 was transported to the Philippines to undergo repairs and upgrades that took four years to complete. In the meantime, with the C/V also decommissioned and service to Yap’s Outer Islands was halted, stranding many in a settlement provided by the state or on the remote islands.
Pacific Mission Air was joined by Caroline Islands Air in early 2018, providing service to Ulithi and Fais. During the recent election campaign, the governor and his running mate announced that a $10 million infrastructure grant from the United States would include repair of the WWII-era airstrip on Woleai. But substantial problems will need to be solved for the long-term due to severe deterioration of the ancient runway.
Transportation to Yap’s remote islands has been a long slog that has lasted many years and is still not over. Nonetheless, the governor noted, “We’re very fortunate to have another option. We are now going to start a new era that will be much better than in the past.”
The H1 departs Yap on Dec. 5 and will make stops on its way to Satawal, the easternmost island in the state, where it will turn around and come back to its home port in Colonia. As of this writing, all of the cabins have been reserved but there is still space on the deck. To book passage or cargo, contact the Marine Transportation office at 691-350-2403.