FOUR robust and agile vessels will depart for the Torres Strait today, a key element of a new pilot program that will radically reshape the way services are provided to poverty-ridden PNG villages just 4 km from Australia’s border.
The 6.8m motorboats will be used to transport medical supplies, staff and patients between PNG Treaty Villages as part of a $1.85 million Federal Government program being run through Cairns’ Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC).
The RRRC has contracted local company INLOC International to deliver the operational and transport logistics and training of 48 community rangers, who will be based out of ranger stations located at four key villages along the Western Province coastline – Sigabadu, Busi, Sui and Madubuan.
Inspecting the boats at the Toll Marine Logistics base before their departure, Mr Entsch described it as a “red letter day” and one that was long overdue.
“We’re finally celebrating using some common sense in relation to how we deal with the TB crisis on our doorstep,” Mr Entsch said.
“Through this program we’ll actually be establishing delivery platforms in these four Treaty Villages that will allow health, water, sanitation and food security initiatives to be run in the communities, something that does not exist at the moment.”
Mr Entsch said the vessels will be a critical link and are purpose-built for the Western Province.
“They have a shallow draught and you can go anywhere with them. They can carry stretchers and ill or elderly people, they’re unsinkable and very stable in rough seas, and their engines are widely used in the region and easily repairable.
“Best of all, they were fully built and equipped here in Cairns by local companies with tropical expertise – critical to their success – at a cost of around $40,000 each.
“Compare that to the Medics Queen, the single vessel that was purposely supplied through AusAID for TB services in the area and cost nearly $1 million all up. This vessel used far too much fuel, its draught was too deep to get to most of the villages, and it’s now sitting on a hard stand behind the Daru hotel – what an absolute waste.”
Cairns companies were not just involved in building and fitting out the vessels, but they have also provided a wide range of equipment for the training camp that will be a base for the community rangers undertaking essential training. The companies include:
· Hooker Boats, who built the four 6.8m motorboats;
· Bill’s Marine, which provided four outboard motors and trailers;
· Adventure Equipment, who provided the majority of camping stores and equipment including tents and sleeping stretchers, storage containers, gazebos, tarpaulins, Eskies and work clothing;
· Miles Electronics, for the communications equipment.
· Sharplift Marine, provided the boating stores (ropes, anchors, lifejackets, flares, pumps, EPIRBs) as well as designing and building the freshwater desalination units;
· English Engineering, who custom-designed the tent/marquee frames;
· OzPoly (based in Innisfail) provided water tanks;
· Tropical Watersports provided emergency sails;
· Portsmith Fuel;
· Brasch’s for chainsaw equipment;
· Cole Tool Centre; Reece Plumbing; Cairns Hardware; Ray’s Outdoors; and Anaconda;
· Aviation and sea transport has been provided by Hinterland Aviation, Cape Air Transport and Toll Marine.
Mr Entsch said he hopes that eventually, each of the 14 villages will have a vessel to transport patients, health workers, community rangers and equipment.
He added that he has already spoken to Environment Minister Greg Hunt about the potential for these same vessels to be provided to indigenous rangers working along Queensland’s coastline.