BY BERNADETTE H. CARRION
KOROR, Palau — Palau welcomed a purpose-built traditional vaka on July 4, which President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. said would help the island nation with sea transport and addressing climate change. The vessel will be used for sea sustainable transport and tourism.
Okeanos Palau is a double-hulled traditional vaka which runs on solar panels and coconut oil engines. It traveled a 4,000-mile journey from New Zealand, passing through Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.
The ship was constructed by the Okeanos Foundation, a German nonprofit which said the vessel cost $1 million. Half of the construction cost is covered by the organization, while Remengesau said Palau will pay half within 10 years.
“We just feel good about the revenue generating capacity. And that money can help push the pot needed to maybe meet some of the costs. We did not expect to just get it for free. So we want to put some money back to the funds,” he said in an interview.
Remengesau said the Okeanos Palau is more cost effective, saving the country thousands of dollars in fuel costs and services. He hopes that the vessel will be used to pay for the costs by using it for tourism tours and to invest in more vessels like it.
He also noted that Palau is “walking the talk” when it comes to combating climate change.
“You cannot just concentrate on transportation or the power plants or forest fires or whatever. You also have to do something about it before these sea ocean vessels really contribute to the atmosphere of global warming. And Palau is doing this already,” Remengesau said.
One of the crew members, Samil Beouch, has been part of the journey and said that sailing for five months was an unforgettable fete despite facing the cold, heavy ocean swells and storms.
“It’s an experience that, you know, is once in your lifetime and it seems to me … the reason why few people attempt to sail out there is maybe they can sense that.” mbj