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August 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Finest Dive Boat in Papua New Guinea? Not Yet

from the August, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The Spirit of Niugini, owned by Oceanic founder Bob Hollis, has been booking plenty of customers for its Papua New Guinea tours, but it hasnt been operable and divers have been passed off to other boats or land-only arrangements and not happily.

In May, the Golden Dawn picked up 15 Russian divers who were transferred by Hollis on short notice because the Spirit wasnt operating, but with some cabins already booked, accommodating them all wasnt easy. They werent happy campers. Worse, 18 divers arrived the following week to find no Spirit operating, and they spent more than two very unhappy weeks on land at the Tawali, also a Hollis operation.

The Spirit is the old Aqua One, and our PNG eyes and ears says that although the claim is it will become the finest dive boat in PNG, the boat is being fixed in PNG and not being sent to Cairns, which most operators here recognize as the nearest place for professional shipworks. . . .the biggest giveaway is that the two main engines are 1,320 hp each. Most vessels of this size run with 550 hp max. This means the boat will have an enormous fuel bill - - the thing that will drive some operators out of the business, or ensure that it wont travel to distant sites.

Undercurrent talked to Ronda Friend, managing partner at Tawali Adventures. She says the boat was a dud when the company bought it, even though so-called experts had told her otherwise, but Tawali takes full responsibility. It was a breach of contract, but we should have caught certain things we didnt. Once we found them, we did everything we could to repair them.

The boat has undergone three months of major renovations, from engine room and sewer system revampings to new carpeting, and is expected to be operable this month. As for the new engines, Friend says they came with the boat and to take them out is incredibly costly. That will take a year because well have to pull the boat out and cut out one side of the boat. In the meantime, yes, our fuel costs have increased 70 percent. She says the Spirit will not cut back on traveling to remote dive sites. Even those these suckers can do 22 knots, you only need 10 knots to get to the outer reefs.

As for sending customers elsewhere, again, no other choice. We could have sent the boat out and it would have met PNG standards, but we wanted to do what was right in a wrong situation. It cost us $15,000 per lost charter to place the divers elsewhere, but we were willing to pay that instead of fudge it. Still, when some divers threatened to sue, Tawali paid them off with the promise that they were not to talk about any trip details or their experiences. Doesnt sound like spirits are high at Tawali right now.

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