ONLY 11 per cent of the population use sea transportation on inter-island ferries, according to the Ministry of Transport.
High fuel costs incurred by shipping operators which result in high travel costs for passengers, low economic activity on the islands because of irregular shipping services, and rural to urban drift are among reasons why less people use sea transportation.
The Ministry of Transport's principal economic planning officer, Jeke Tavai, said the government hoped to change this with frequent shipping services to the islands.
Speaking at the sustainable sea transport workshop a the University of the South Pacific yesterday, he said this could generate economic activity on remote outer islands and boost maritime transportation. Ministry data showed that in 2011, 61648 people made up outward passengers and 50,610 were inward travellers on island ferries.
The only economical routes were Suva, Koro, Savusavu and Taveuni - serviced by the Spirit of Free Enterprise and Lomaiviti Princess - and Natovi, Nabouwalu and Buresala, serviced by the Spirit of Harmony. The rest of the 10 routes were classified uneconomical.
The State pays $1.5m annually for ships to go on the routes once a month. This is to only cover administration costs of the ships. Mr Tavai said since the monthly trips, they had noticed some economic activity on some of the islands.
Fiji Islands Voyaging Society president Colin Philp said the ministry data did not include those travelling by smaller boats.
He said it was not a true reflection of the number of people travelling by sea.
Mr Philp said sea transportation was not properly regulated and the ministry did not have "any idea on the exact figures". The workshop aims to find sustainable methods of sea transportation and among them is using fossil-free sailing vessels.