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  • Writer's pictureTina Sendin

Navigating a logistical and COVID challenge to deliver the Kiritimati Submarine Cable project

Team celebrating completion of the duct line and bulkhead works on Kiritimati for BwebwerikiNet Ltd

Completing projects in the Pacific, especially in remote locations, is always a logistical challenge. Add to this the impact of COVID, with the consequential lack of flights, limited transport alternatives, great difficulties in getting visas, and lost time and inconvenience due to quarantine.

CCB Envico Site Manager, Bill Newton, experienced this challenge first-hand when he was sent to oversee the Kiritimati Submarine Cable project from November 2020 to May 2021. The challenge was to get Bill from Australia and into Kiritimati Island (more commonly known as Christmas Island) during COVID!

CCB Envico served as the civil contractor for the Kiritimati Submarine Cable project, which will provide Kiribati with cable connections using spurs off the main SX NEXT cable from Australia to the USA and expand the island's internet bandwidth.

For this project, CCB Envico was allowed to send only one trade specialist. It nominated Bill Newton, who has been with the company from 2001 and has completed projects in Kiritimati from 2016 to 2018. In advance of his arrival, he was able to round up a local team from the past works to assist in doing the new work associated with submarine cable.

Flying out of Australia was very restricted and required special approvals from numerous Government departments. Once approved, the question then was how to get Bill to Kiritimati. Following an itinerary organised by the Southern Cross team, Bill took a flight from Melbourne via a 14 hour layover in the airport in Auckland to Nadi in Fiji.

Bill did two weeks of quarantine in Nadi. After that, he was flown to Tarawa (Kiribati main island and capital) on a chartered emergency medical aircraft, one of the very few which were pre-approved to enter Kiribati. Once in Tarawa, he then did a further two weeks of quarantine! You can appreciate that by now Bill was getting sick of quarantine.

But further arrangements were required: how do we get Bill to Kiritimati Island some 3000 km away?

The Kiribati authorities required that the aircraft to be used must come from a COVID-free country. As such a charter plane from Fiji, Hawaii, NZ or Australia did not qualify. The aircraft had to come from Samoa. The only aircraft that could be chartered was a two-engine prop jet Commander. This aircraft has a range of 2,000 kilometres but no toilet. Thus, it could not fly from Tarawa to Kiritimati Island directly and had to refuel at an intermediate location within Kiribati. The only island where this was possible was Kanton Island. Go and take a look at Google Maps below and find yourself Kanton Island. It's remote.

So, the adventure began. The six seater Commander aircraft with Bill on board flew five hours to Kanton Island to refuel from drums which had been delivered by ship some months before. After that was another five hour flight on to Kiritimati Island.

What a journey just to get our construction foreman onto the island to manage the whole suite of civil works necessary for station.

Many weeks prior to sending staff to Kiritimati, CCB had assembled all the materials needed and shipped them in five containers to Kiritimati so they were waiting for Bill’s arrival. Because of the limitation of machinery on the island such items included in these materials was an excavator – this item proved to be invaluable and was used to dig the duct route, manholes, site works, and other trenching needed. The CCB planning had been done with precision and experience and fortunately everything required had been included – this was essential as very little can be procured on island (there is no Bunnings or Home Depot). So, after Bill conducted the necessary OH&S induction, work started in November 2020 and was completed in May 2021, ready for the arrival of the cable station module in June 2021.

Bill then went back to Australia via Kanton Island, Samoa and two weeks quarantine in New Zealand.

Overall, with all the quarantine required, only about 3 months have been added to completion dates, thanks to the massive efforts of the Southern Cross logistics team and the commitment of those involved such as Bill to complete a key project that will eventually expand the current satellite capacity and internet bandwidth of the island from less than 50 Mbps to an abundant 50 Gbps.


The above story include excerpts of the article written by John Hibbard of Hibbard Consulting Pty Ltd, full version found here.


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