Lighterage and the South Pacific!
October 1, 2022 ibnasina

Lighterage or lightering is the process of transferring cargo between vessels of different sizes, usually between a barge (lighter) and a bulk or container carrying vessel. Lightering is undertaken to reduce a vessel’s draft so it can enter a port area that cannot accept large fully-loaded ocean-going vessels. As the south pacific is made up of a number of very small islands, some of which have limited port facilities and / or shallow draft, the lighterage method of transferring cargo from a large ocean vessel to these islands have allowed for all type of cargo to be imported (and in some cases exported) to and from these small island nations.

While the history of lighterage operations started in Asia as a method of moving produce and perishable items between the mainland and smaller islands, it has become more common place in smaller island regions such as the south pacific, and is today still the sole method of ocean cargo transfer for the nations of Nauru and Norfolk Island. At both of these small islands, the ship anchors offshore and the cargo is discharged into lighters.  The lighters that take the cargo ashore are not operated by the shipping line, but are operated by the Norfolk Island or Nauru Administration Lighterage Service.  At the jetty the cargo is available for uplift immediately by the consignee. The process by which the cargo is transferred from the mother vessel to the lighter is via ships crane or guide wires. All ocean vessels looking to carry cargo to the likes of Nauru or Norfolk Island must be geared vessels with their own cranes to allow for cargo transfer. When vehicles are moved from the mother vessel to the lighter, guide wires are used to connect the ship to the lighter and the vehicle is balanced on these wires and lowered down to the lighter.


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In some cases Lighterage can be a risky business. Tides and large sea swells can inhibit the ability of cargo transfer and in some cases lighterage operations can take several days to complete when weather conditions are adverse. In both Nauru and Norfolk Island, air transport is limited to only 1-2 flights per week (namely from Australia or New Zealand) so ocean transportation is the main method of delivery of crucial supplies (including food!) to these small islands. As you can imagine, the crew manning the lighter craft must be highly skilled in the transfer of cargo both from the mother vessel to the lighter, and from the lighter to the jetty. In both Norfolk Island and Nauru wharf or jetty space is extremely limited so there is no room for error.


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