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Archived News: August 2007

From Dr John Fatiaki in Suva (30 August 2007)

May I first extend my warmest greetings to all our relatives and the Rotuman diaspora and thank all the contributors who have expressed their concerns about the situation with the Bulou Ni Ceva wreck at Oinafa.

May I also apologise for not having responded earlier; however, as much work and effort was being put into trying to resolve the issue, I felt it more appropriate to respond when these efforts had translated into something concrete and tangible in the way of a solution to our problem. But I can assure you all that your concerns and sentiments are shared by all Rotumans on the island, in Fiji and by the Council.

In brief, the Bulou Ni Ceva was removed from the Lopta reef in August 2006 after most of the fuel and oil had been removed by Workboats Fiji. It was then towed to the Oinafa wharf where it was moored pending a decision by the Kadavu Shipping Co and the Dominion Insurance Co on whether the boat would be towed back to Fiji after temporary repairs were effected or whether it would be towed out to deep water and sunk.

These "talks" from Sept through November seemed headed for a decision when the events of December 2006 occurred. Unfortunately, as the situation in the country was in a state of flux, we were unable to get a definitive decision from anyone then, and all progress ground to a halt as we returned to the island to inform the Council of the new state of affairs in the country in Dec 2006.

Responding to the request of the Council that we continue to act as representatives of the Rotuman people, we returned to Fiji in February 2007 and began the process of meetings with new ministers, CEOs, etc as we attempted to attend to the many issues affecting the island (including the Bulou Ni Ceva wreck).

These culminated in a ministerial and government delegation to the island in May that has been touched upon by George in his earlier hanuju piece, and which committed to many requests, of which the removal of the Bulou Ni Ceva was paramount.
I returned to the island in July following a Cabinet meeting which endorsed and approved funding for all our proposals.

A follow-up team from Rotuma (Chairman Tarterani Rigamoto, Gagaj Maraf, Gagaj Mora, and the Pepjei Mata Penamino Tavo) met with the Minister of Transport, Works and Energy and the Prime Minister last Monday where I made a presentation on these issues. The grounds of our submission were that the ship is now a:

  • derelict vessel
  • a hazard to navigation
  • an environmental disaster waiting to happen and most importantly
  • an EYESORE

We received a favourable response and an assurance from the PM that the matter would be attended to within a month.

I am therefore heartened to note that in today's Fiji Times (30 August, page 50) a tender asking for expressions of interest from companies to salvage, refloat, tow and sink the Bulou Ni Ceva in deep water was printed.

We will continue to pursue the issue, but am hopeful that with your prayers, we will see this eyesore off our island before Christmas 2007 at the latest.

With warmest Regards

Dr John and George (presently on the island tending to his taro plantation)

From Konousi Aisake in Surrey, B.C. Canada (27 August 2007)

We have made it a goal in our life to visit Rotuma every four to five years -- it has been 5 years since our last visit. This trip has been the hardest for arranging transport; the plane and boat are rarely operating, making it difficult for Rotumans overseas to visit home. We got lucky at the last hour -- something came through for us and we spent five weeks on the island and with three days to spare made our overseas connection back to Canada. In today’s global world it is hard to believe that rather than making it easier to go to Rotuma Island, it is harder, and fraught with tension.

Rotuma Island is just as beautiful and peaceful as always. There is no need to lock doors, windows or worry about where our children go day or night. Electricity has arrived for most villages, and some have street lights (and there are no noisy, stinky generators to spoil the place). Some families have had to pull out due to cost of having bright lights and some are not happy. It is tough to cut copra when you only get $0.13 a kg, (your loving heart of sparing a few dollars to send back home is not forgotten). There is a carefree innocence along with a willingness to work hard in order to make a better living the best they can (I love it!). People are trying very hard to maintain a western lifestyle, but that can only last till the last drop of oil. Weeks before we flew back to Fiji there was nothing that one needed in the shops, including fuel. The last boat that came to Rotuma was the one we were on a month before, and the cargo that came with it sold out before the end of the month.

The coconut telegraph is alive and well, just like in the sixties. It's hard to know who is telling the true news or where this news comes from.

The birth rate in Rotuma has dropped to its lowest rate and is affecting enrollment in the elementary and high schools. There is some concern that if this trend continues it will greatly endanger our island's schools in ten years time. Some say that drinking kava and socializing away from family households is the reason for so few babies.

Principal John Tanu is doing a great job at Rotuma High School and Rotuma is blessed to have him back. That's not to forget all the teachers who are trying their best and giving time for Rotuma’s progress. The Rotuma Council and the chiefs are doing their best for everyone on the island and abroad, whether you realize it or not. I believe they have great hope for our beautiful Island and I thank them for their effort. God bless them to guide Rotuma to where we all hope. In a changing world it is not that simple to bring changes to Rotuma and our chiefs are very much aware that every new change is like a coin that has two sides.

The question most asked on Rotuma is, when will my son, daughter, brother, sister or other kainaga come home to see us? I do understand how difficult it is to get back home, but here is a tip for you: In your prayers, keep your thoughts focused on Rotuma for a year or so, and truly believe that you will get home.

I would like to say thank you so much for the great support I have received from those of you who have bought my artwork; it helps my family in Rotuma a lot. Your commitment to maintaining our Rotuman heritage is greatly appreciated.

From Sanimeli Maraf in Rotuma (12 August 2007, posted 20 August)

A charter flight from Fiji arrived on 9 August bringing some Vodaphone people (four men, including two Rotumans--one of them is the son of Pasirio Kitione and Sela) to see which hills are suitable for building towers to service the island. I believe one will be built on Solroroa in Itu'muta for the western side, and another one will be here in Noa'tau on Satarua hill, which is owned by the Mani family. It will service the eastern end of the island. The land owners are happy because Vodaphone will lease their land.

The work will be done by helicopter. The men are returning to Fiji on 14 August. They said weather permitting we would be using Vodaphone before Christmas. This will be welcome because our telephone service is not up-to-date. We still cannot ring overseas from here and we're forever having problems with our phones, yet we have to pay for service and phone rentals. The Digicel phone lot were here at one stage but nothing came of it so far.

We have here in Faioa wind monitors erected 20 and 30 meters high recording the wind's speed per second and wind direction, as well as the temperature. Mr Kava Memaofa here in Noa'tau is a qualified electrician who is making the recordings and reporting back to Fiji to Mr Kini Koroi. I believe an overseas government plus SOPAC in Suva are responsible for this project. Noa'tau is very windy and may be a suitable location to harness wind energy.

Some interim government members were here for the May celebrations and promised they would try to do many good things for us, so let's hope our dreams will come true for the first time.

For those of you who plan to come over for the holidays at Christmas time, please make sure you allow for delays both coming to and leaving Rotuma, especially if you are taking the plane. It's a shame we don't have competition for the air service.

A happy birthday to my daughter, Noona Rosemary Stace, in Melbourne.

From the Fiji Daily Post (13 August 2007)

Local energy resources for remote islands: A case study of Rotuma

by Gerhard Zieroth

CAN coconut oil really replace imported diesel oil and power our cars trucks, boats and generators? How many coconut trees do we have and how much oil can we produce from these local resources? Which technologies are available to produce fuel grade coconut oil and what do we have to do to use it properly? Is it economical to use coconut oil as a biofuel and what are the risks involved in introducing biofuels in Fiji and other Pacific island countries? Many of you must have contemplated these and similar questions when paying your ever increasing bill for diesel, petro and kerosene.

Copra Buyer
Coconut power ... So why are we not using locally produced coconut oil as diesel fuel yet?

The PIEPSAP Project (Pacific Island Energy Policy and Strategic Action Project) has just circulated a research report that addresses these issues and presents a case study for Rotuma, Fiji's remotest island.

The PIEPSAP project is hosted at SOPAC and is funded through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) by the Government of Denmark. The project assists 14 Pacific island countries in improving the management of their energy sectors and promotes the use of local energy sources. The Rotuma study has been performed in response to a request from the Fiji Department and Energy.

Rotuma is Fiji's remotest island. It is located 640 km North West of the capital Suva from where it is supplied with all essential goods including fuel. High supply cost for fuel and disruptions in supply have triggered interests to develop local coconut resources and other renewable energies as alternatives.

ln order to comprehensively assess the feasibility to use localenergy resources PIEPSAP has conducted a study on technical, economic, socio-economic, environmental and institutional aspects of local energy use.

We have assessed the resource potential of coconuts that can be harvested on Rotuma using remote sensing techniques and high-resolution satellite imagery.

Copra Dryer
Copra dryer

This assessment showed that at present total coconut production on Rotuma is approx 7.3 million nuts per year. After making allowances for accessibility and traditional uses of coconuts approx five million nuts could be used for a local oil production.

This would produce approximately 660,000 litres ofcoconut oil per year. Currently, Rotuma diesel consumption stands at approx 184,000 litres per year, i.e. the coconut resources are sufficient to produce more than three times the required diesel fuel needed.

In Rotuma diesel fuel is mainly consumed for power generation. Villages have their own generators and small electricity grids that supply power to the households for a couple of hours a day.

The government station also has a generator and the Public Works Department operates diesel generators that power the pumps that in turn supply the water for Rotuma's residents. There are also approximately 30-40 cars, trucks, construction machinery and busses on the island that are fuelled by diesel.

Because of the remote location it is costly to supply fuel to Rotuma Since mid 2004 when Mobil ceased to operate its fuel storage facility all fuel is brought in 200 litres drums. Prices are typically well above retail prices on the main islands and the residents of Rotuma having experienced fuel shortages due to delayed shipment and insufficient supply.

At present retail prices are well above two dollars per litre. Petroleum shortages and supply interruptions typically have a number of significant impacts including interruptions in island transport and electricity and water supply.

At the time of our field investigations water supply was rationed due to fuel shortages. When fuel shortages occur the island bus service ceases to operate and as a consequence students can often not reach their schools. Hospital services are also affected. Villages remain dark at night.

So why are we not using locally produced coconut oil as diesel fuel yet? Firstly, there is no oil mill in Rotuma The current copra production of approx 700tons per year it sold to the oil mill in Savusavu at approx $520 per ton.

Milling copra locally is possible and there are small oil mills that could be operated on the island. A mill that produces approx 100,000 litres per year would cost approx $150,000.

If the mill paid the current roadside price for copra of 12 cents per kg, such a mill could produce coconut oil at a cost of approx $1.50 per litre. Considering that we have to use 1.08 litre of coconut oil to replace a litre of diesel replacing a litre of diesel would cost $1.63.

With diesel retail prices at present above two dollars in Rotuma the production of fuel from coconuts sounds like an interesting business.

Unfortunately, however, diesel fuel and coconut oil is not quite the same thing. First and foremost, the coconut oil needs to be very clean for being used as a fuel.

Even oil free of water and contamination shows significant differences in properties that require modifications on the engines that are fuelled with coconut oil.

These modifications typically involve additional filters and heating of the oil before it goes into the engine. Other modifications may also be required, depending on how the engine is being used and what type of engine it is and how it is being used.

Diesel engines operating under high loads and high temperatures are more tolerant to coconut oil than those that idle or are only loaded a little.

Adaptations therefore sometimes involve dual tank systems where coconut oil in only being used under conditions that are tolerant whereas regular diesel from a second is used when the loads and engine temperatures are low.

What happens if we use coconut oil without modifying the engine? It will work but better not try as this may cause serious trouble and in the worst case destroy your engine.

Running a modified engine on coconut oil also requires more attention with respect to maintenance. Motor oil and filters may need to be changed more frequently.

In other words there are additional cost if coconut oil is to be used as a fuel. In order to assess the viability of a locally produced "biofuel" we have assessed these costs for a variety of applications typical for Rotuma such an power generation, bus transport and individual vehicles.

Power House
A power house on Rotuma

This analysis shows additional cost between 10 and 50 cents per litre of coconut oil. Power generation using a motor that is specially designed for the use of coconut oil offers the cheapest option.

Such a generator would operate with fuel cost in the order of $1.73 which is clearly cheaper than using diesel fuel at current prices. From our studies we can therefore conclude that the production of a fuel grade coconut oil on Rotuma is an interesting option that could save money, generate local income, reduce the risk of environmental pollution by diesel oil and increase energy security for the island.

Therefore, the PIEPSAP project has set aside funds to establish a small-scale pilot production. This project will be implemented as a community based project and also include a number of trials using coconut oil or blends of coconut oil and diesel in a number of different applications.

Gerhard Zieroth is the leader of the PIEPSAP project team located at SOPAC. Over the last 25years he has managed energy sector projects for the European Union, the World Bank, UNDP and the German agency GTZ in anumber of countries in Africa, Asia and in the Pacific. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed are entirely those of the author.

Photos by Gerhard Zieroth

From Fiji Times Online (5 August 2007)

Solo Williams's quest for cooking

This item has been transferred to the Life Stories section of the website

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