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People of Tokelau want better services -

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PETER CAVE: Spare a thought for the poor people of Tokelau. It's made up of three tiny tropical
coral atolls, which are battered continuously by waves and wind whipping across the South Pacific.

There's no airport or airstrip, and the only way in and out of is by boat, a trip that takes 26
hours on a good day.

But the boat being used by the people of Tokelau is old and the leader of the tiny community fears
for his life every time he steps onboard.

Our New Zealand correspondent Kerri Ritchie reports on a group of islanders struggling to make ends
meet.

KERRI RITCHIE: Tokelau is 500 kilometres north of Samoa. It's 1200 or so residents are totally
reliant on the boat - the MV Tokelau - which was given to them by the New Zealand government in the
1970s.

The vessel takes them to and from Samoa and brings in essential supplies. Tokelau's leader Foua
Toloa says in fine weather the trip to Samoa usually takes about a day - but once in a storm he
spent 48 hours on the boat and feared for his life the whole way.

FOUA TOLOA: You know, sometimes when it's really rough, you know you just bow your head and pray
that you will get home, you know.

KERRI RITCHIE: Despite the very real risk of the boat sinking, Foua Toloa says more Tokelauans than
ever before want to make the perilous journey to Samoa. In 2005 the MV Tokelau made 13 trips - last
year it made about 40.

FOUA TOLOA: We have one boat, you know it's not in good condition. Ten years ago it was in the end
of its life but we're maintaining the boat for that service. If we don't have a service, there have
been cases, many cases whereby sick people are put on fishing boats, fishing in the area, you know
to come down and bring patients Apia.

KERRI RITCHIE: Foua Toloa is convinced Tokelauans living in Australia and New Zealand aren't
travelling home, because they're scared about dying on the boat trip.

FOUA TOLOA: It's our lifeline, it's like our umbilical cord you know, it's everything you know our
life orients around transportation, our infrastructure, development, our economic development, our
culture, our custom, because it's reuniting of our people and families you know, all over the
world, you know with the mother land.

KERRI RITCHIE: Tokelau is a New Zealand administered territory - its people are New Zealand
citizens. New Zealand's Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples took his family on the MV Tokelau in
the '70s and admits he was terrified.

PITA SHARPLES: You see the waves are so big they are like paddocks, and you know, you can see at
night the lights on the boat shining out to sea, all you see is a really big green wall and
suddenly it's black and you look way down and you see, oh my god way down there, that's how big the
waves are.

I got sick, my wife got sick and our kids got sick, we were all on our knees, never mind the bucket
we'd just let it go wherever we could, it was such a bad trip. It is a heck of a trip going across
to Tokelau, and so you need a good boat.

KERRI RITCHIE: New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says he's well aware the boat needs to be
replaced - he's just got to find the money. He estimates a 25-year lease on a new vessel will cost
more than $140-million.

JOHN KEY: We understand absolutely the issues, plane access doesn't really look like it would be a
credible option and certainly wouldn't cover all of their issues. At the moment it's costing around
about $2-million a year to support the MV Tokelau, it would be multiples of that for a new boat.

KERRI RITCHIE: Tokelau's leader has invited John Key to visit - the New Zealand Prime Minister
admitted he wouldn't be too keen to catch the MV Tokelau.

JOHN KEY: I think it's unlikely they would put me on the MV Tokelau, but maybe the HMAS Canterbury.

KERRI RITCHIE: Tokelau's leader Foua Toloa says they might not have a large population - but New
Zealand has an obligation to protect them.

FOUA TOLOA: It's our heritage, so although we have families around the world, 9,000 away as you
mention, you know but, there is no place like home.

KERRI RITCHIE: He says his country's future depends on a new boat.

This is Kerri Ritchie in Auckland reporting for The World Today.