Okeanos Palau, an eco-friendly, modernized traditional Pacific sailing canoe called ‘Vaka Motu’, was welcomed by traditional dancers as it docked at Neco Dock in Koror yesterday, July 4.(Rhealyn C. Pojas)

Palau is stepping up its fight against climate change as its newest sea transport vessel, the Okeanos Palau – an eco-friendly, modernized traditional Pacific sailing canoe called ‘Vaka Motu’ arrived at Neco Dock in Koror yesterday, July 4.

The Vaka Motu, which means “boat for the islands”, was acquired by Palau through partnership with the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea (Okeanos), a philanthropic and non-profit German organization who claims that one of its goals is to promote sustainable sea transportation among island communities through the development of Pacific traditional vessels.

Okeanos Palau, which carried with it three Palauan crew namely Samil Beouch, J’mos Andrew, and Bucksie Blesam, was welcomed by Palauan traditional chiefs, government officials, and locals through a traditional ceremony held at the Drop Off Bar and Grill.

The Vaka Motu, under the leadership of Okeanos Fleet Commander and Master Navigator Peia Patai, braved around 4,000 miles of open ocean water before arriving in Palau from New Zealand. The fleet sailed with a total of eight passengers and four crews.

Samil Beouch, one of the Palauan crew, described the experience of navigating the open water with the Vaka Motu for over a month as a “once in a lifetime experience.” Beouch, together with the other Palauan crew, spent five months away from home to undergo navigation training.

“The swells, the storms, the rain, sun, you name it. The experience, to me, I would not have it if I did not go there,” Beouch said in an interview.

President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., meanwhile, said that the Vaka Motu has the capacity to carry about three tons of goods and around 20-25 people.

Remengesau said that having vessels like the Vaka Motu is one way to address climate change and other challenges facing the ocean.

“We cannot just concentrate on land transportation, plants, and forest, we also have to do something about ocean vessels that are really contributing to [pollution and] global warming, and Palau is doing this already,” Remengesau said.

According to Remengesau, having the Vaka Motu means thousands of dollars of savings for Palau and more frequent services.

“Sometimes you think that you need to employ modern technology all the time and new ways of doing things but actually all you have to do is hang on and practice what works for you in the past,” Remengesau said.

In our previous report, it was stated that the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea shouldered half of the price of the vessel or $500,000 while the other half will be paid down through a revenue generated by the Vaka Motu as it begins its operation here.

Remengesau said that they are looking at several ways in which the vessel could generate revenue to become self-sustaining among which include chartering the vessel for research purposes, sunset cruises for selected tourists and private and government guests, and to private and state governments who want to deliver goods and services to the country’s outlying islands.

“We just feel good about the revenue-generating capacity and that money can help to meet some of the costs,” Remengesau said.

“We did not expect to just get it for free so we want some money back to the fund, especially that we know that this is not the last [vessel] that we want,” Remengesau said, hinting further that once Palau gets the capacity to train more people, it will want to bring more sustainable transport vessels to the country.

The Okeanos prides itself for devising a modernized, traditional Pacific sailing canoe that is powered only by renewable resources such as wind, solar energy, and coconut bio-fuel. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)