Tongan Ministry of Agriculture 'frustrated' over watermelon shipment cancellation

Crane lifting up container in yard
Photo credit: Getty Images

By Sela Jane Hopgood for RNZ

Tonga's Ministry of Agriculture says the reason a shipment of watermelons for New Zealand wasn't picked up was because there were no containers ready for transport.

On 4 December, New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries issued a temporary approval permit, lifting a ban on Tonga's watermelons that was put in place two months ago after fruit fly larvae was detected at the borders.

The first 10 consignments of melons was scheduled to leave Tonga for New Zealand on 5 December.

However, the trucking companies that were organised by the ministry to transport the melons to the wharf in Tongatapu did not arrive.

Tongan Ministry of Agriculture acting chief executive Mana'ia Halafihi said the reason the trucks did not show up was because there were no containers ready for transportation.

"We had everything ready to go, all the assessments completed including the fumigation treatment and so, [but] when we were ready to load the melons to be transported to the wharf, there were no containers.

"In order for the trucks to do their job, they need the containers ready, which is the responsibility of the exporters."

RNZ Pacific understands that the team leader of the technical group was working around the clock on Friday night, "running around looking for at least one container, but nothing was found", Halafihi explained.

"That's where the failure occurred. This is a reminder for us to be prepared. We were frustrated as we have been looking forward to resuming our shipments to New Zealand."

Halafihi said the next ship was due to depart on Friday 11 December and his team are working hard to ensure this incident did not happen again.