THE name Patterson is synonymous with shipping in Fiji. And it comes as no surprise, that 84 years on brothers Trevor and George Patterson are this family business.
One of the prominent families in Levuka, the elder Patterson — Thomas Patterson — was a blacksmith and engineer who came to Fiji from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Scotland in 1876.
The founders of Patterson Brothers Shipping, Thomas's sons — George and Reginald Patterson originally operated as a partnership called Patterson Brothers Partnership, providing inter-island shipping services along with other services such as engineering, commercial electricity and cinema services in Levuka in the early 1920s.
"The turn to shipping in 1928 saw the servicing of the Levuka — Lodoni Village in Tailevu near Ratu Kadavulevu School. The first vessel the AK Jubilee would call into Lodoni Village and the passengers would be ferried ashore," said Trevor Patterson, a director of Patterson Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd.
Between 1940 and 1982, Patterson Shipping added a number of vessels to its ever-expanding fleet such as MV Jubilee (after a slight modification), MV Wanderer, MV Malahini, and the MV Ovalau which complemented the service of the MV Jubilee to and from Levuka. The introduction of new vessels by the Government Shipping Services saw Patterson adapt new shipping routes that were previously not catered for like the Suva to Nabouwalu and Labasa route carrying cargo along the Northern coast in 1977, a route that they still reliably service today.
Then in 1982 the family business changed from a partnership to a limited liability company with the new name Patterson Brothers Shipping Co. Ltd to include the children of its two directors — Henry and Robert Patterson, sons of its founders, George Patterson.
"Then my father Henry Patterson got the first loan from the Fiji Development Bank that's when we bought the first 'Roll-on Roll-off' ferry — TSMV Ovalau II and brought it over to Fiji. It was bought from Western Japan in March 1983," Trevor said. In July 1984, the company also bought the TSMV Jubilee II with a 700 gross tonnage.
The company was financed through FDB's Corporate Loans facility under transportation. This product covers taxis, hire cars, trucks, marine vessels and other mediums of transport.
In 2006 FDB approved another loan for the company allowing the purchase of the Spirit of Harmony in 2007. It remains the only vessel in the company fleet. Trevor admits that it has been a long and challenging progress for the company.
"The maritime business is about patience and perseverance because you are dealing with the sea and weather conditions is always changing from time to time affecting the volume of passengers. There were times when passenger volume was very low. One year we had up to 37 trip cancellations due to bad weather which is substantial revenue lost but we've stayed the course with the optimism that one day Vanua Levu will be developed and with that, the infrastructure. We've held the Natovi-Nabouwalu route through thick and thin and we've kept the faith," Trevor said.
That optimism has been rewarded with government signing off on the $220million tar-sealing of the Nabouwalu to Dreketi road in June this year.
"Today we are really happy knowing that the road is being sealed which will provide more comfort for our passengers and we are gearing up to meet that demand," Trevor said.
In light of these developments the company is in talks with FDB on the purchase of a new vessel to provide back to back service to its current route in anticipation of the demand brought on through the roading project the operation of the pine chip mill at Wairiki and bauxite mine in Nawailevu to name a few ongoing developments. "At the end of the day it is not only the money but the satisfaction of continuing what our forefathers started that drives us. We have always been mindful of the people and we have been here all this while and we are here to stay and serve them," Trevor said.
* Lote Raboila is a media and community relations officer with the Fiji Development Bank