Norfolk Island faces real food crisis while Australians panic-buy toilet paper

Norfolk Island faces real food crisis while Australians panic-buy toilet paper


March 05, 2020 08:16:33


Norfolk Island shops are empty while locals continue to wait for food supplies. (Supplied: Betty Matthews)

While Australians panic-buy toilet paper, Norfolk Island is facing a real food and supply crisis due to significant cuts to shipping services.

Key points:

Norfolk Island, 1,400 kilometres east of mainland Australia, has not received a cargo ship delivery since DecemberFive air freight flights have been organised to arrive this month, but one businessman says it’ll take 70 planes to bring the equivalent of one 1,000 tonne shipThe next ship is fully booked with stockfeed and food, but will be lacking in non-essentials such as building materials

Residents are calling for an intervention over the food shortage, which has left supermarket shelves bare and no food for livestock for more than seven weeks.

The island has not received a cargo ship delivery since December, having lost its regular, twice-monthly deliveries due to increased difficulties offloading stock at Norfolk.

The next delivery is due to arrive on March 17 but is already booked-out for mostly food supplies due to the extent of the current shortage.

The owner of Norfolk’s supermarket, Geoff Bennett, needs 400 tonnes of supplies to restock his store.

“Major supply shortages right across our economy have already occurred which is having a serious and growing negative impact on every business and every individual on Norfolk Island,” he said.

“With grossly insufficient shipping capacity ahead, our Government must act now to prevent this crisis developing further.”


Norfolk Island is a tiny Australian island in the South Pacific Ocean. (ABC News: Nathan Morris)

Australian intervention

Norfolk Island is an external Australian territory and has been under mainland governance since 2016.

Five air freight flights to Norfolk Island have been hastily organised to arrive before the end of the month to help deliver supplies.

However, locals say shipment issues must be resolved because air freight has serious limitations, including significantly less space and high freight costs.

“It’s the carriage of the heavy goods — flour, sugar, packaged milk, stock food, chook and pet-food, all canned and bottled products — that cannot economically be carried by air. That has become the real problem,” Mr Bennett said.


Norfolk Island, with a population of almost 2,000 people, relies on shipping and air freight. (Supplied: Sarah Jenkins)

Fellow business owner Martin Cross sells livestock supplies and must rely on cargo ships.

“It’ll take 70 planes to bring the equivalent of what comes on one 1,000 tonne ship,” Mr Cross said.

He believes the situation is a crisis that must be escalated.

“It is a state of emergency. It’s like a farmer in Australia in flood — the Air Force gets involved and drops off hay to stock,” he said.

“It’s a no-brainer, the Air Force has just got to help Norfolk Island.”


The island’s supermarket is empty because no cargo ships have arrived with food or supplies since December. (Supplied: Sarah Jenkins)

Livestock and construction struggle

Mr Cross said the need to prioritise critical supplies means industries like agriculture and construction are struggling.

“The most important thing is to keep your animals fed which has been very, very difficult of late,” he said.

“Stock feed is the biggest thing I’ve had trouble getting onto the island. It’s been going on for some time. I’d say it’s been snowballing for five years.

“We’re currently in a drought and this is the driest part of the year. We need stock feed for cattle, horses, and chickens while there is no grass growing.”


Norfolk Island has had a very dry summer. (ABC News: Jessie Davies)

Many industries are being impacted by shipping shortages.

“There are tradespeople that don’t have any work because they don’t have any supplies,” Mr Cross said.

“The next ship is fully booked with stockfeed and food. There’s no timber coming, no roofing, no soap powder. They’re not essential.

“For people running accommodation places, how do you wash the sheets with no soap powder? Or without dishwashing detergent?”

Looking for answers

Residents say the problem has become progressively worse over the years following the decision to upgrade just one of the island’s two piers.

With rough seas and only one pier available for offloading, vessels are often at sea waiting for weeks to come to shore.

This problem is putting pressure on shipping companies who lose money every day they are forced to wait.

Local administrator Eric Hutchinson said they were trying to find a long-term solution.


Norfolk Island’s resident administrator Eric Hutchinson says no-one will go hungry. (ABC News: Claudia Jambor, file photo)

“Do we have some challenges in respect of a reliable, regular and cost-effective sea freight service to Norfolk Island? Yes we do,” he said.

“That’s where the attention and focus of my office, the regional council, importers and shipping companies is focused upon.

The administrator said he was confident they would arrive at a solution that is appropriate for Norfolk Island.

“It does present challenges. There is no safe anchorage on Norfolk. Ships have to anchor offshore and then goods are offloaded from those ships,” he said.

Mr Hutchinson conceded cargo ships were very important for the island.

“There is a shipping schedule for the year but it won’t meet all the needs of the island. In the meantime, the Commonwealth provides subsidised air freight services,” Mr Hutchinson said.

“There are certain items that are uneconomical or logistically impossible to bring in via air.

“But to suggest there’s not an availability of food on the island is a misrepresentation.”

Local solutions

Local venue owner Carli Christian has started a Facebook page for Norfolk Islanders to swap food with one another.

“There’s nothing worse than when you’re following a recipe and missing what you need to finish the dish,” Ms Christian said.

“So I thought just to get us through this time we can barter with one another — like we used to in the day.

“It’s a nice way to get in touch. It makes it better because we don’t bump into each other in the supermarket at the moment.”

She is one of many people who insists Norfolk Island is still open for business.

“It’s amazing here, it’s still beautiful now — even though we’re in drought. It’s one of the best places,” she said.

“We shouldn’t be taken off someone’s bucket list just because of what we’re going through at the moment.

“It’s so close to Australia and there’s no way we should be going through this.”

Mr Hutchinson said no-one would go hungry.

“For anyone considering visiting Norfolk Island they will get very, very well fed,” he said.

“Norfolk Island, over many, many years, has prided itself on its ability to be self-sustaining.

“There’s a lot of local products — food, vegetables, meat, and the best fishing grounds. All surrounded by the Pacific.”
















First posted

March 05, 2020 06:31:45

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