A Boat 4 Christmas Islands

Initial efforts go swimmingly


Mere months after its inception, the campaign headed by the Pacific Islands Medical Aid (PIMA)-affiliated Boat Committee to secure a vessel for emergency medical transportation between the islands of the Pacific nation of Kiribati is already making waves.

A fortuitous connection with a contact in the sailing world brought Dr. Elizabeth Beale, an endocrinologist with the University of Southern California who has spearheaded the campaign, in touch with Chris Bone, the managing director of marine conservation group OceansWatch and an experienced yachtsman with knowledge of the Pacific islands.

After an initial discussion regarding what type of boat would be required to meet the needs of the Kiribati people and PIMA, Bone recommended a Wharram catamaran, an open-deck vessel inspired by Polynesian double canoes.

He also expressed interest in pursuing a joint venture in which PIMA would handle medical missions among the islands of Kiribati and OceansWatch would crew the boat and conduct marine conservation and humanitarian work.
Meanwhile, Carlton Smith, the founder of PIMA, visited the islands in mid- March and discussed the boat campaign with Kiribati government officials. In addition to expressing enthusiasm about improved transportation between the islands, they provided more information about the logistics of the project.

Ideally, the craft would be able to carry five or six people in addition to its crew, as well as up to 500 pounds of medical supplies, produce from the outer islands of Tabuaeran and Teraina, or other resources.

Moorings and docks are available in lagoons on Kiritimati and Tabuaeran, but there is no dock or safe landing area on Teraina. Local motorboats would have to shuttle people and supplies through the surrounding coral reef.

Although medical emergencies would be relatively rare, Smith envisioned regular runs between the islands for general medical care and other transportation needs, in addition to staving off boredom among crew.

Kiribati officials agreed that PIMA should take the lead on managing the boat as a charitable contribution. They also suggested a trial run to determine whether a Wharram catamaran meets space and safety requirements.

Several issues remain up for discussion, including whether a representative from PIMA should attend an annual gathering of Wharram catamaran experts and enthusiasts in Islamorada, Fla., in May. Other potential steps include developin a cost–benefit analysis and a fundraising plan.

Initial estimates suggest between $60,000 and $80,000 would be needed to purchase a catamaran that would meet the needs of the Kiribati people, although more research is needed.

The Mission

As one of the world’s most isolated and impoverished nations, Kiribati is in urgent need of medical support and supplies. The island nation’s 100,000 citizens benefit from a small hospital on Kiritimati, but residents of far-flung Tabuaeran and Teraina islands are difficult to reach during medical emergencies.

A well-stocked and sturdy vessel would enable the critically ill and injured to be transported during emergencies and allow medical staff to visit the outer islands, improving quality of life and bringing peace of mind to the Kiribati people.

The goal of the A Boat 4 Christmas campaign is to assess the needs of Kiribati residents, determine the requirements for a seaworthy vessel capable of safely navigating the distances between the islands, and securing funding and other resources to locate, purchase, supply, maintain, and crew such a vessel.

Next Boat Committee Meeting

Tentative Date: May 23, 2013, 6:30 p.m.

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