Kosrae’s tourism industry has literally run out of gas — thanks to a bad batch of jet fuel.

The easternmost and smallest of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia reported June 30 to the Micronesia chapter of the Pacific Area Travel Association that its industry is in crisis due largely to contaminated jet fuel at its fuel depot. Grant Ismael general manager of the bureau reported on the crisis at PATA’s quarterly general assembly meeting at the Hyatt Regency Guam. He said Kosrae’s tourist traffic had dwindled to almost nothing and the bad jet fuel is being sold to the public as kerosene by the gallon.

Kosrae’s connection to the world Continental Micronesia tankers in extra fuel as a temporary solution and beginning May 23 cut eastbound flights to once a week because it is unable to refuel.

Meanwhile officials from Micronesia Petroleum Corp. Kosrae’s government-owned fuel agency were on Guam in early July to meet with oil companies. An oil-industry source said they were looking for a new source of jet fuel.

While the tourism industry is at a standstill the island’s 7 833 residents situated on five closely situated islands with a total land area of 42.3 square miles are inconvenienced as well.

PATA responded at the general assemby by promising to send regional task force to Kosrae within 30 days to assess the situation and make recommendations.“They have no arrivals or very few arrivals ” said John C. Salas chairman of PATA Micronesia. “When I was working on the Kosrae master plan last year two of the hotels had already closed up.” Kosrae’s tourism has been in slow decline since it peaked in 1997 but insult was added to injury when the island’s latest delivery of jet fuel failed a series of tests and retests forcing Continental Micronesia flights to overfly Kosrae most of the time.

“The flash point was wrong ” said Walter P. Dias staff vice president for sales and marketing for Continental Micronesia who explained that the fuel samples did not meet standards set by the Federal Aviation Authority for jet fuel A. “Samples were brought to Guam. All three samples were tested twice. All six failed.” The first test was done on May 16 and a retest was done on June 10.

Kosrae Visitor Arrivals
Total Arrivals
Visitors
1996
2 254
1 532
1997
2 651
2 354
1998
1 650
1 330
1999
2 385
1 812
2000
3 516
1 703
2001
2 209
1 682
2002
2 273
1 707
2003
1 547
1 180

 

Edgar Santos tourism development officer for the FSM adheres to a conspiracy theory about the fuel. In a phone interview with the Journal from Palikir Pohnpei capital of the FSM which is 340 miles west of Kosrae Santos said “I’m one of those people who are suspicious about it. Somebody sabotaged the fuel or Kosrae is a victim of something strange. Maybe it’s just my mind working overtime.”

Unable to tank up in Kosrae Continental Micronesia’s Boeing 737 “island hopper” flights which depart Guam on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays skipped Kosrae on most eastbound flights beginning the last week in May.

“We are tankering fuel in putting more fuel in the aircraft from another origin. Typically you want to load passengers on board rather than extra fuel ” Dias said.

“Loads to Kosrae are sometimes light so we can get away with adding extra fuel without always restricting passengers. It is the lowest load-factor segment in the island-hopping route — Pohnpei to Kosrae and Kosrae to Kwajalein.” The island hopper’s route is Guam Chuuk Pohnpei Kosrae Kwajalein Majuro and Honolulu. The return westbound flights are able to land in Kosrae without a fuel problem.

“This is kind of a Band-Aid ” Dias said. “We don’t want to operate this way forever. It is a crisis in that Kosrae needs to solve the fuel issue.”

Travel agents said the problem for Kosrae’s tourism market is that the interruption in airline arrivals has disturbed the patterns of travel packages. Dias said there were rumors that Continental was suspending service altogether which spooked the travel industry. “They didn’t want to send customers and have them stranded there.”

Santos described tourism nationwide for the FSM: “It’s not so bad but it’s not so great either.” He said Pohnpei is “static” at about 10 000 visitors a year Yap has grown slowly in the past two years to about 7 000 visitors a year Chuuk has been steady and Kosrae has been in steady decline from 2 354 in 1997 to 1 180 in 2003.

Santos said Kosrae’s attractions to tourists are solitude beaches mangrove swamps and the ancient stone ruins of Lelu Village.

Salas suggested that the PATA task force will identify a target arrival market within 1 000 miles of Kosrae which could involve 500 000 potential visitors. “We might want to promote it as a meeting place to kick back — literal paradise that they have. We might want to focus on the military market on Guam.”

Santos said Kosrae’s major problem is identity. It lies in the shadow of Pohnpei which hosts the national capital in Palikir. Pohnpei boasts of grander stone ruins of Nan Madol and world-famous pepper crop regarded by many as a spicy step above India’s Telecheri. “Kosrae is practically unknown. It used to be a municipality of Pohnpei in the Trust Territory days. They broke away and became one of the states.

“Kosrae’s tourism problem is not anything that is salvageable overnight. It will be interesting to see what PATA recommends for its growth ” Santos said. “From the national government’s standpoint I don’t think their problem is that big a deal. It’s exaggerated. We haven’t received anything from them addressing that they have a crisis.” MBJ