Aussie engineers go the extra nautical mile

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Atafu atoll, part of the Tokelau islands.
Atafu atoll, part of the Tokelau islands.

Queensland-based Hall Contracting is undertaking one of the most remote marine engineering projects on the planet.

It’s a project that gives new meaning to the phrase ‘remote working’ with an Australian engineering company, Hall Contracting, taking on a marine construction project in one of the most distant parts of the world, the island nation of Tokelau.

Where? Tokelau comprises three coral atolls in the south Pacific measuring about 10km2 in land mass and home to a population of about 1,500 people. It’s a long way from anywhere and Hall Contracting is going there to help upgrade reef passages and construct four new wharves on the atolls.

The Hall Contracting barge ready to leave Australia for Tokelau
The Hall Contracting barge ready to leave Australia for Tokelau

Hall Contracting CEO Cameron Hall said one of the company’s tugs and a 52-foot barge had set sail from Brisbane, with the journey to Tokelau’s Atufu atoll expected to take around four weeks.

“Based in the southern Pacific Ocean, Tokelau is very isolated and only accessible by sea, with its nearest neighbour, Samoa, approximately 500km away,” he said.

“With this in mind, proficiency in planning and logistics has been imperative, as any overlooked parts or pieces of equipment will spend weeks in transit and cannot be flown onto the various atolls.

“Our team has had to consider every conceivable scenario, and I think it’s fair to say we have more spare parts on board our barge for the three excavators and loader being used than Volvo currently has housed in Australia!”

In addition to civil construction equipment, the barge houses 10 shipping containers including offices, a kitchen, medical facility and store rooms; twelve 3,000-litre fuel tanks; eight generator plants; a desalination plant; satellite communication equipment; and five 10,000-litre water tanks to service the workers.

The works — which will result in Tokelauan locals benefiting from safer and more reliable ship-to-shore operations — are expected to commence in May 2018 and conclude in November 2019. According to Hall, tidal and weather conditions in Tokelau regularly impact on scheduled deliveries, delaying the supply of goods.

“Tokelau is reliant on these operations for transporting passengers and goods, so it’s vital that they can operate smoothly moving forward,” he said.

“The existing channels afford little protection from swell and are incredibly exposed, so widening and deepening the reef passages will enable ship-to-shore vessels, smaller fishing boats and inter-island vessels to navigate the area more easily and safely.

“The works will provide increased shelter from wave action and have been designed to minimise the need for regular maintenance.

“Our crew will also upgrade the existing wharf and ramp structures on the Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo atolls as part of our efforts in Tokelau.

Hall Contracting CEO Cameron Hall.
Hall Contracting CEO Cameron Hall.

A number of Pacific Islanders had been recruited to support the team of 13 Australian workers.

“We’re proud to have 14 skilled Samoan workers joining our team in Tokelau and are also looking to hire a number of Tokelauans,” said Hall.

“The local workers will be trained in the use of small tools, concreting and general labouring duties, which will contribute positively to the economies of Pacific Island communities.”

Hall Contracting has previously delivered a range of works in the Pacific Islands funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“Our team has been servicing the Pacific Islands for more than 10 years, with a particular focus on remote civil, dredging and marine projects,” said Hall.

“Some of the works we have delivered in the past include the repair of a storm breach and filling of ‘borrow pits’ on Tuvalu’s Funafuti atoll, as well as construction of a seawall on the Nukufetau atoll, which assists in protecting locals from the impacts of climate change.”

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