Honourable Ministers,
Mr. George Goundar, President of Goundar Shipping,
Friends and employees of Goundar Shipping,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

Each time we inaugurate a new service or a new piece of national infrastructure, we take another step—a step that breaks barriers, a step that brings Fijians closer together, a step toward greater national prosperity, a step that creates more opportunity for Fijians. That is because a road, an electrical grid, a school or a ship is more than what we see before us, more than its physical form.

Every investment we make is an investment in people. And every investment we make weaves and strengthens the fabric of our national life. So a modern, well-equipped school building is not just a building; it is a future of learning and possibilities for the children who will one day lead this country. And a road is more than a ribbon of asphalt; it connects families, it creates community, it gives farms and factories access to markets.
In that way, this ship, the Lomaiviti Princess III, is more than just a ship. If it were only a ship, I probably would not be her to launch it. But this ship is part of our national communications network. To be truly united for commerce and connected as a nation, Fiji needs a network of highways, air routes and maritime routes that link Labasa to Lautoka, Rotuma to Suva, and Koro and Kadavu to Taveuni.

Sea travel needs to be as modern, comfortable and safe as highway travel, integrated in purpose and function until it forms one seamless web. The Lomaiviti Princess III does that. Last week I was in the North, and I had the pleasure of inaugurating the new highway extension linking Nabouwalu to Dreketi. It is part of a highway that winds through the very heart of Vanua Levu, and it is critical to the economy and social well-being of the island. And the Nabouwalu Jetty is one of its most important points. When this ship docks at the Nabouwalu Jetty, it will effectively extend that highway directly to Viti Levu.

Well, we have had ships before, of course, but the new Lomaiviti Princess III is bigger and more comfortable. It will carry more people and more vehicles, and it is worthy of the nation I believe we are capable of becoming.

I am a retired Navy man, and I know what it is to be at sea. When I travel our islands to visit with and listen to the Fijian people, I travel by ship. I most certainly do not fly! So I understand what it is to spend many hours over open water, to know that your life depends on the skill, experience and judgment of the captain. I know what it means to have confidence in the professionalism of the crew, and I understand the peace of mind that comes from knowing that the ship is properly maintained and that the company keeps to the highest maritime standards.

This ship did admirable service in British Columbia, Canada, before Goundar Shipping bought it and upgraded it for service here in Fiji. Prior to a recent amendment to the ship registration decree in the budget session, ships older than 20 years could not be brought into Fiji. But thanks to this common sense reform, these older vessels can be imported once they’ve met stringent safety requirements. This allows older vessels that still carry a lot of value, to be re-fitted to serve our market without sacrificing the safety of our passengers.

We now have the flexibility to enlarge our shipping fleet and provide more opportunities to invest in shipping services to our outer islands as opposed to subsidising un-economical inter-island air services. In this way, we improves our services and better spend tax-payer funds without losing vital access to our outer island communities.

I also understand as well as anyone that people need basic creature comforts on the 10- to 12-hour voyage between Suva and Savusavu. It’s a long voyage, so the attention to keeping passengers comfortable is important: The film room, the cabins, the comfortable lounges, the children’s play areas, all make the voyage shorter and easier to endure. This ship will also service a route to Kadavu, great news for a growing tourism destination that can now look forward to even greater development.
This vessel can carry 700 passengers and the vehicle deck where we sit right now has the capacity to load 40 ten wheeler trucks or 150 cars. And it has comfortable seating, cabins and dining facilities, play areas for children, emergency medical care, and accommodations for the disabled. The Fijian people deserve no less.

This new vessel is also bringing employment opportunities for 40 people who will become members of the ship’s crew. This will be a great opportunity to gain experience on the open seas and begin a rewarding career helping us stay more connected as a nation.
I am pleased to note that Goundar Shipping’s stated vision is “to continuously improve the island coastal travel experience in Fiji through excellence in service and innovation” and that it values safety, environmental responsibility, integrity and service. Those are the values that George Goundar learned from his family and community growing up in Koro. They are the values that make Goundar Shipping an ideal partner for Government, because those are the very values that drive my government and the very values that will propel Fiji into the future.

George knows that Goundar Shipping is more than a business. It provides a vital service, and that makes it a business that serves the people, that upholds the national interest, and that keeps the well-being of the Fijian people foremost.

George’s own story is one that I believe is symbolic of the new direction that Fiji is taking and the new vision that drives my Government’s decisions. He returned to Fiji, after migrating to British Columbia, because he never forgot the country of his youth, his beloved Fiji. He placed his confidence in my Government and in our policies, and the ability of our people to move Fiji forward towards greater stability and prosperity.
I am pleased to announce that Goundar Shipping will also invest $10 million over the next three years to bring two more ships and construct a 5,000 ton floating dock. This is a huge investment for our shipping industry and will be the first dock of its kind in Fiji. It will give us space for even larger ships and allow us to build our shipping industry into a modern and efficient operation that will bring greater development and growth to our island economy.
I’ve gone all over the world re-connecting with our Fijian diaspora because I believe that we are strongest when we stand united as a global community. So I take a lot of pride in George’s decision to return and in Goundar Shipping’s further investments, because both reflect commitment to our new Fiji.

It is for everyone’s benefit when our Fijian family abroad contributes their resources and expertise to help build up our country and invest in our ability – so I will continue to re-build our relationships with Fijians across the globe and encourage them to take advantage of the investment opportunities and incentives that await them back home in Fiji.

Today, those efforts have brought us the Lomaiviti Princess III and a promising future for our shipping industry and in the days to come, I look forward to the future infrastructure development and investment opportunities we can bring to the Fijian people.

With those few words, I now officially launch Lomaiviti Princess III.