April 28, 2010

By Bill Jaynes

The Kaselehlie Press

Pohnpei, FSM- In July of 2009, Moses Nelson was hired as the Micronesian Shipping Commission's Executive Director. MSC has been in existence for nearly 20 years but has not had a staff for most of that time. That has changed. Nelson said that the Commission has been reinvigorated and is up and running at full force, regulating commercial shipping throughout Micronesia.

The Commission covers commercial ship-ping regulations and licensing in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Is-lands. "If it gets here by water we regulate it," Nelson claimed.

He said that the function of MSC is vital in the region in order to insure that there is a steady shipping arrangement for an equally steady flow of commodities into the region. "99% of what we need in the Micronesian countries comes by ship," said Nelson, only slightly exaggerating the rate of importation.

The Micronesian Shipping Commission operates under a unique mandate. Commissioners are the Transportation Ministers from FSM, Palau, and RMI. Saipan and Guam are non-voting members of the commission. Nelson said that MSC is covered by a treaty amongst the participating nations. Each of the voting nations on the commission has its own enabling legislation regarding MSC. It's a model for multinational cooperative organizations that Nelson believes should be used whenever cooperative organizations are formed to solve multinational problems.

He specifically mentioned environmental, and fisheries issues that could possibly be dealt with by Micronesian countries in a fashion similar to the MSC model. "Sometimes issues are given to a National Government department to take care of but that department usually doesn't have enough funding or staff members to properly handle regulation of the issue, and each country is doing it themselves," Nelson said.

MSC, on the other hand, works cooperatively to regulate shipping in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean that the three Freely Associated States control as their Economic Exclusive Zones. Each member government has their own internal laws giving responsibility for regulation of commercial ship-ping to MSC. Nelson said that those laws "have teeth" in terms of enforcement.

"MSC's loyalty is to the governments and ultimately, the people," Nelson said.

Just the same, MSC receives ap-proximately 90% of its funding from license fees that they issue to shippers operating in the region. Nelson said that the commission receives very little financial sup-port from any of the governments of the countries involved in the Commission.

The Micronesian Shipping Commission works towards the equitable operation of all carriers in the FSM. MSC sets and collects licensing fees from commercial shippers including freight forwarders. The three governments collect taxes from the shippers.

In the FSM, admiralty issues are covered under National law. Where State and National laws collide on maritime issues the MSC functions as an intermediary as they did in a recent case of a barge carrying aggregate to Yap. The barge foundered on a reef in Palau and officials filed a lawsuit seeking huge fines. Other companies who carry imported products to Yap were concerned that they might face similar reprisals and were becoming squeamish about steaming into Yap's ports. According to Nelson, MSC played a role in ensuring that goods would continue to be shipped into Yap's ports.

At least one shipper considered the possibility of ending shipping services to Chuuk because of that State's extraordinarily high rates for piloting. Nelson said that MSC, the shippers, and Chuuk officials handling pilotage fees discussed the matter and came to a resolution on the matter of piloting fees. Freight continues to be carried into Chuuk's Weno port.

The current MSC commissioners include Jackson Ngiraingas, RMI Minister of Public Infrastructure, Industries, and Commerce, Kenneth Kedi, Palau Minister of Transportation and Commerce, and Francis Itimai, FSM's Secretary for the Department of Transportation, Communication and Infra-structure.

The three Commissioners met in Pohnpei on April 19 and 20. Nelson said that most of the content of the meetings had to do with administrative oversight and details regarding the shipping commission but their main topic had to do with training issues.

MSC's bylaws allow for preferential licensing of shippers that take on Micronesian in-terns. Two commercial shippers currently take on interns, Matson Shipping Lines and the Kyowa/FSM Line. The shippers each take interns for a one year period. They are recruited from the maritime program in Yap which is run by the College of Micronesia FSM. RMI and Palau both previously had similar programs but they are no longer in operation.

Sometimes the participating shippers take on students from a similar program in the Philip-pines that often trains Micronesian citizens. The shipper provides all needed equipment and uniforms and provides a bi-weekly per diem to the interns for the year long training period.

Matson has two interns that will soon finish their program which means that shipper will have two spaces available for Micronesians. The Kyowa/FSM line will soon have one slot available for an intern.

Nelson said that he would like to see other shippers operating in the area, take on interns as well.