Government-owned company Kordia is working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to bring VHF communications services to mariners in the Pacific.
Kordia CEO Scott Bartlett has told a Parliamentary committee the company was very interested in deploying a VHF network similar to that servicing New Zealand mariners to the Pacific Islands and involving local communities.
The service, which Bartlet called Project Pacific, would be backed by professional services delivered from New Zealand.
"We have terrific maritime communications in New Zealand - absolutely world class," Bartlett told the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee in February.
"You can go out, hop on a boat, have your little VHF receiver there -- it probably cost, you know, 50 bucks from Burnsco or something -- and if you run out of fuel or you’re in a worse situation, we will hear you from our maritime operations centre here in Wellington and we will ensure that you are rescued or assisted.
"That service does not really exist ubiquitously across the Pacific, and we’ve already seen a number of tragedies and disasters in the Pacific, and those are just the ones that you hear about."
Bartlett said there were probably many more such tragedies not being reported in the news media.
"We are working with MFAT as we speak, and we hope that someone will go 'Yeah, that’s awesome. We’ll give you some funding to go do that.' — hint, hint," he told the committee.
Referencing a Kiribati ferry disaster that took around 100 lives, Bartlett said he saw such a project starting with the New Zealand protectorates with infrastructure that could provide VHF coverage up to about 20 nautical miles off the coastline.
The project could be delivered in three phases over three or four years at about $3 million or $4 million per phase, he said.
"So it is not small; it’s not ginormous," he said. "And in terms of the need and the benefit, we know from just the reported stats that there are a large number of fatalities and other boating or maritime incidents that happen up in the islands."
Bartlett said it costs about a quarter million dollars a day to fly an Air Force Orion up to the Pacific and in Kordia's "humble view" it would be far more effective if they were only deployed in areas and times of absolute need.
A VHF service would empower local communities to look out for their own. Other funding mechanisms could be used to ensure they have access to boats, equipment and training.
"You want local communities to own the well-being of their peoples, but they need to be trained how to do that," he said.