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    quokka
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

New Frontier - 3. NF Ch 3

“Yes well I was just doing my job, as to the Minister’s requirements,” I responded, as I looked at his name badge, which read Lionel James. “And the reason why you are here today,” the Minister added. “As you see the report of location is incorrect, it is actually Dry Island that the Ship has landed on, and from my observations, it is not going anywhere in a real hurry,” Lionel commented to us.

“Did all the passengers and crew get off safely?” the Minister asked, “Yes sir, only six senior officers and four crewmen have remained onboard,” Lionel replied as we climbed into the four wheel drive vehicle for the short drive to the fisheries patrol boat, which looked like to be a locally built as it is a 27 metre Tri Swath vessel, with a very low draft.

As we boarded the vessel, we were introduced to two other crew members, the Skipper by the name of Kip and a deckhand by the name of Myles, who were also in Fisheries uniforms. Once we had taken our seats, we were soon on our way, and South passing Bushby, Little Rat and Roma Islands, all which have heaps of shacks located on them, and heaps of small jetties.

Once we passed Little Rat Island on the Western side, the ship was now clearly visible, sitting at least two or three metres, above sea level. “Wow, that is quite a sight to see,” the Minister commented. Mike, can you ask the skipper to do a few slow circles around Dry Island please, I want to take a look around the waters around the island,” I asked the senior Fisheries Officer, who picked up the internal phone and pressed a button.

“Our guests would like to do a slow survey of the waters around Dry Island please Skipper,” we heard him say, and moments later we felt the vessel slow down and I stood up and headed for the forward door to the Forward deck outside.

After going around two times the vessel slowed some more, and turned to approach the east side of Dry Island, where there are two large doors open down low in the ship one forward and one aft, and there was a walkway from the ship down to the island, which I guessed to be about 4 metres.

We saw another walkway had been set up from the top of the island and sitting on a number of overturned plastic drums, which seam to be lashed to the walkway. “Interesting boat landing, did you boys do that?” Mike asked his junior colleague.

“Yes sir it was my idea actually, we borrowed a few drums from the fishermen, and lashed it all together, then hammered down a few steel posts into the ground to secure the walkway,” the junior officer said nervously. Mike smiled and gave him a slap on the back, “A job well done young man, congratulations on coming up with the idea,” Mike said to him and the young officer smiled broadly.

Once we had offloaded, and stood on solid ground the vessel backed away, and kept at an on-spot idle, until we are ready to come back onboard. As we approached the monster shop, which towered above us, I let out a long whistle, man what a place to get grounded, she is huge,” I commented.

“That she is, all ten levels of her,” a voice said in response as he appeared at the doorway of the forward hatch. “My name is Captain Oliver Antero, the man fully responsible for this incident, although I was not on the Bridge at the time,” the man said with a strong European accent.

“May I introduce the Western Australian Minister for Environment, as well as Independent Environmental Scientist Mr Anton Hamilton, and two senior staff from the Department of Fisheries,” the Minister’s PA announced, before stepping back behind all of us.

“Minister, it is a pleasure to meet you, as well as your staff and scientist. The two officers who were on deck at the time of the incident are still onboard, and are ready to be questioned when you are, we will give you all the information that you require, as directed by our company in Helsinki,” the Captain announced.

“I have a few questions for you please captain, after you have shown the Minister and his Fisheries Officers to where they can interview the crew,” I commented, and I saw the Minister nod his head in agreement to what I has said.

A bit over ten minutes later we were sitting down in a large lounge, on deck 9, with the Captain and I seated well away from the others. “Captain, if I may start with what is your current supply of fuels onboard the ship, and has there been any damage to the tanks?” I asked.

“We were getting close to a quarter left in fuel and oils, we were planning to refuel at Geraldton once the storm was over, and no there has been no damage to the tanks. I have my Chief and 1st Engineers still onboard, and that is the first thing that we checked this morning,” the Captain replied, and I typed some notes into my computer.

“Next, what structural damage have you received from when the ship landed on the island,” I asked, “Virtually none, we ran aground a little after midnight, with just a heavy thud, as the sea’s just plonked us onto the island, no scraping or dragging marks anywhere, which really surprised me,” the Captain answered.

“How old is the ship and what are the plans for the future of the ship?” I asked next, “She was built in 1992. This was to be her final voyage, we were going to head north to Singapore and return to Europe, where she is to be sold, either for scrap metal or to become a floating hotel,” the Captain replied.

A smiled when he said the second option, which the Captain noticed, “How many guest cabins to you have onboard?” I asked next, “There is 171 guest cabins, and 160 crew cabins, most of the officers are either European, while most of the general crew are a mixture of Filipino, Singaporean, Canadian and British,” the Captain replied.

“Have you sent the entire crew back home?” I asked, “No, only the crew that are close to home have been sent home, which is about 90 Filipinos, and 40 from Singapore. I am curious, why so many questions about the crew, and why the smile, when I mentioned floating hotel?” the Captain asked me.

“I cannot say just now, not until the Minister and I have spoken to the company that owns the ship,” I replied, and after a few more questions, I thanked the Captain for his time and let him go. Ten minutes later he Minister and his PA sat down at the table where I was typing away.

“Well what is your verdict so far?” the Minister asked me, “Well sir, on an environmental view of the incident, there is nothing stopping you for making the decision to go ahead with the proposal. The ship has 171 guest cabins, which is sufficient for the needs for the project, and although most of the lower grade workers have been flown home, that can easily be replaced with people from WA or interstate.

I would recommend keeping the essential officers onboard, if they are willing to remain, especially in the areas of engineering sanitation, housekeeping and catering,” I replied as I saw the Minister’s PA face scrunch up in confusion, and I quietly chuckled at this.

“Err, what on earth is he talking about sir?” he asked his boss, “Mr Hamilton and I had a lunch appointment yesterday, where Mr Hamilton submitted an idea to me, that would resolve a thorny issue that was splashed all over the newspapers the other day,” the Minister replied cryptically.

“Oh, you mean about the over crowding of the islands that are used to accommodate the Cray Fishermen, but, what does that have … oh… I get it now, wow that is quite a big idea you have there Mr Hamilton, if I understand it correctly. Your plan is to have a ship replace all of the shacks on the twenty two islands, which would be removed, so as to bring them back to their original state,” the PA said to me.

“That is exactly what I presented to the Minister, but I didn’t have a big ship like this as the proposed idea, I was thinking more along the way of retired European River ships, which there are a plenty of available at the moment,” I replied.

“Well, that is a very ambitious project Mr Hamilton, and I think that it definitely has its merits, but what about food and general waste, not to mention sewerage waste, and also what about the Co-operative, I bet they will not like this idea much,” the PA said.

“Well to quote what Mr Hamilton said yesterday, it is not for them to decide, as he kindly reminded me, that the islands are an A class reserve and as such it is the State Governments responsibility and decision on what to do with the islands,” the Minister said smiling.

“I have just one thought, how many charter companies do fishing tours around the island?” I asked, “I can answer that question, currently there are 5 licensed tour companies who are authorised to do fishing, scuba diving and snorkelling tours of the island, but only during daylight hours.

Further more there are three aircraft charter companies who are authorised to land on any of the three airfields, on the islands, with their passengers permitted to swim and snorkel around the areas. There is also private boat owners that often come out here, but they must get permission from us before heading this way,” Mike said as he approached and sat down.

“Mike, you know the newspaper report the other day when the environmentalist groups called for action to reduce the damage caused by too man fishermen living on the Abrolhos Islands, well Mr Hamilton here, brought a proposal to me yesterday, which was well before this ship became stuck at its current location,” the Minister said to the senior Fisheries Officer.

Mike turned to me to see if he could get more information, “My proposal was to get a number of retired European River Cruise ships into position here, so as to accommodate the fishermen and their crew and families, so all of the shacks and the majority of the jetties can be removed, to allow the islands to get back to what it used to be,” I said. Mike’s mouth dropped open in surprise, and he blinked a couple of times, “Wow, now that is one out of the ball park, so to speak, so what does this… oh wait? You got to be kidding me? This huge ship?” Mike said in shock.

“Well it does fit the requirements, the only thing is, this ship is about 8 stories higher than the ships that I was planning to use. The Captain informed me that this ship was on its final voyage, before becoming scrap metal or a floating hotel.

Although it is not permitted so far, if this project does go ahead, we could offset the costs of running this monstrosity, by allowing limited tourism with accommodation offered, during the off season of the Cray Fishing,” I commented.

“What would be your recommendations in regards to this project, would you allow for the running of a primary school and providing some services to the fishing community, like basic shopping, things like hairdressing, post office, and things like that?” Mike asked.

“Yes to all of that and more, I would like to make it so that the fishing community can call this a home. From the research I have done on this ship, it already has a number of shops, a hairdresser service, commercial laundry, then there is the swimming pool, mini golf, basketball courts, the cinema and the theatre.

Maybe the families would like to stay onboard full time, and that only their crew just head back to the mainland at the close of the season. If we did use this ship, I would need to invest in a vessel to transport the fishermen to their boats each day, and I have the funds to do just that,” I commented.

“What would you charge for accommodation onboard the ship and what about costs for food and such?” the Minister asked me, “Yes that is another thing to consider, and I think that question needs to be put to the Co-op and its members,” I replied.

“Minister, we have Mr Hans Urich on the telephone from HQ in Helsinki, to speak to you?” the Captain said as he approached, “Do you have a meeting or conference room that we can take the call from please?” the Minister asked, “Yes sir, one level down, I will get my first officer to show you the way,” the Captain replied.

Less than five minutes later we all sat down in the meeting room, and the Minister hit the button for the telephone, “Mr Urich, I am the Minister for Environment for the Western Australian Government, and it is my department that takes care of the Abrolhos Islands where your ship has landed on, I have with me an independent Environmental scientist, and two members of the Fisheries Department that have jurisdiction of this area,” the Minister said…

After twenty minutes of discussions, with the proposal now pitched to the Managing Director of the company that owns the ship, it was now up to them to decide on what action to take, after the ships captain confirming to his boss that the ship was definitely grounded on a small island about two metres above sea level, and that it would be virtually impossible for the ship to be lifted off the island, without damaging surround coral reefs and sea grasses.

With the Cray season coming to a close in just over 6 weeks time, at the end of March, I knew that we would have to get feed back from the Co-op before they knock off for the season, as we accepted an offer to get a full tour of the whole ship, which took us nearly three hours, and ended with us been given a very nice lunch.

Once Mike’s colleagues came to pick us up, we were happy for the ship to remain as it is with the existing crew to remain onboard as caretakers, until a decision is made on the ship’s future from Helsinki. Once back on Rat Island, we were driven back to the airfield and we were soon in the air heading back to Perth.

“What is your view on how the meeting went with the man in Helsinki?” the Minister asked me, as we settled in out chairs for the trip back to Perth. “I think it went well, although he was quite shocked at our suggestion of a solution to the problem, and I saw that he was a little weary of our suggestion of a floating hotel,” I replied.

“I agree with Mr Hamilton on all points, Minister, I guess it is a matter of wait and see,” Mike added. “Sir as part of the project to establish the ship as a Floatel for mostly the fishing community, I have one suggestion to add.

As well as the services that we are to provide to them, including the primary school, post office, recreation facilities, and the cafes and restaurants, I would like to recommend that a government department office be added, so that there is a full time presence on the Abrolhos Islands,” I suggested.

“Now, I definitely like that idea, Minister, especially after the tour of the ship that we have had,” Mike said, and I gave a short laugh, as the Minister smiled. “Yes, I can see the benefits to that, and yes it would be good to have a patrol boat out here permanently, so I will take that suggestion to the cabinet as part of the proposal,” the Minister replied.

Once we landed back in Perth, I headed straight for my vehicle, and began the long two hour drive north to Jurien Bay and home, where I was looking forward to a few days of rest and relaxation.

Copyright Feb 2021 All Rights Reserved, Preston Wigglesworth
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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I believe that the idea that Anton proposed will be a great thing for the environment. It would also solve the problem for the company that owns the ship of how to safely remove it from the island without damaging the coral reef in the area around the island. Great chapter and story.

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