Vision and the Beginnings
The Chief Inspecting Engineer at the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company brought a blowtorch to Fiji. It was powered by Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). He thought the idea of gas in portable containers was a good one. Fiji Gas can trace its roots to this very humble beginning.
With three other expatriate colleagues he registered the Ready Gas (Fiji) Limited and a business was born.
In September 1956 the WLD Harvie organisation, an early shareholder, took over the running of the business with Sir Hugh Hall Ragg as chairman and director and Mr Roger Probert as its Company Secretary.
The early years were a struggle as LPG was an unknown source of fuel and people were suspicious of this new technology and its use in the home. The company needed to find a way to get used to cooking with gas and to see the benefits. A major breakthrough came when Ready Gas donated gas stoves to many schools in Ba and Lautoka. The stoves were used in home economic classes and students convinced their parents that gas was the best way to cook.
Finding a consistent gas supply was another major problem the fledgling company faced. The first supplies came from Indonesia but this proved erratic as did a supply from California. The LPG industry in Australia was getting started but in the early years it did not prove to be reliable source of competitively priced gas.
It was not until 1964 when Mobil Oil Australia built a 160-tonne bulk tank that Gas supply worries became a thing of the past. As part of the ten year supply deal, Mobil not only bought all the cylinders and tanks from the Ready Gas but they also bought the company name, Ready Gas (Fiji). The Company became the Fiji Gas Company Limited. The Company name was further changed in 2004 to Fiji Gas Limited.
Roger Probert recalled he didn’t know whether the ten year deal with Mobil was a ‘wise move’ as it meant Mobil now owned all tanks and cylinders. The Fiji Gas Company only owned the service of taking gas to the customers. The deal was signed and as Probert said it gave the company money.
It also coincided with the increasing development of the tourism industry and a consequent increase in sales volumes.
The Gas Supply Company (A wholly owned subsidiary of Boral Limited of Australia)
In 1972 it was becoming apparent that the 10 year contract with Mobil was unlikely to be renewed. As a result Roger Probert started to look for new partners. In May of that year he met with Eric Neal of the Gas Supply Company who was looking to expand their operations in the Pacific. The negotiations culminated in the Gas Supply Company taking a 50% stake in Fiji Gas.
Under the Mobil agreement Fiji Gas only handled deliveries. To move on with Boral they needed to build their own bulk terminals in Suva and the West. The major concern was having the bulk storage site in Lautoka ready to accept the gas from the first Boral gas tanker. They had only three months to reclaim the land, build the filling station, and install the tanks and the water system. They succeeded and the terminal was opened by the Minister for Lands, Ratu Josua Toganivalu, on 3rd December 1973.
In another joint venture with Boral, Fiji Gas invested in the ‘Fiji Gas’. She was an LPG ocean going tanker with a capacity of 500 tonnes. This was later increased to 850 tonnes. Since then Boral have invested in a further two tankers. The three ships supplied gas into ocean terminal across the South Pacific.
Boral Australia decided to split its company into two companies, energy and non-energy. This saw the birth of Origin Energy in March 2000. On its creation Origin Energy became the biggest shareholder in Fiji Gas.
The close links between Origin and Fiji Gas continue to this day. There are no regulations for the Gas industry in Fiji and Fiji Gas operates to Australian and other international standards in all its operations. Fiji Gas is regularly audited for compliance by engineers from Origin Energy.
Terminals and Infrastructure
Fiji Gas built their first ocean gas terminals in 1973, one in Suva and one in Lautoka. Under the 10 year Mobil contract they had no need for terminals and bulk storage, However when the company went into partnership with Boral they needed terminals. An Australian company, Norman J Hurll, led the construction of both terminals. They were both built with 3 x 150 tonne tanks. Fiji Gas wanted to have such a high capacity to ensure they could always fulfil their customers’ requirements.
Malau was chosen as the location for the Labasa terminal. It was open for business in November of 1981 and it led to strong growth in sales on the island of Vanua Levu. An office was opened in Labasa Town in the same year.
The demand along the Coral Coast resulted in the building of the Sigatoka terminal in 1992 and a cylinder filling station was constructed in Savusavu in 1993.
In 2007 Fiji Gas increased its capacity significantly when it installed 5 x 250 tonne tanks. 2 In its Wailada terminal and 3 in Lautoka.
The fire fighting capabilities and other safety equipment is continuously being upgraded by Fiji Gas to ensure the safety of the terminals and the people who work in them.
Similarly Fiji Gas’s delivery trucks and tankers are being renewed annually to provide increased safety standards. In September and October of 2015 all the cylinder trucks were updated with a new railing system and quick release bars to support the delivery teams. The design and rebuild of these trucks was done by Fiji Gas staff.
The first LPG powered car was driven in Fiji in the mid-70s. The Mazda Ute was converted from petrol to LPG was carried out by none other than the current Chairman, Harvie Probert. The first bowser for auto gas was in Walu Bay with Mobil. The Adoption of LPG was slow in the early days.
It was not until the twenty first century that LPG as a motor fuel took off in Fiji. Fiji Gas worked with taxi drivers and convinced them that it was in their interests to use a clean fuel. They also worked with the government to encourage the use of clean fuels in Fiji by making LPG powered cars duty free.
In 2006 the change in duty was made and since then LPG has grown enormously. Fiji Gas has more than 20 auto gas bowsers across Viti Levu. They opened their first bowser in Vanua Levu earlier this year and have plans to grow the number of auto gas outlets in the future.
At the turn of the century there were fewer than 100 LPG motor vehicles in Fiji. Now there are about 2,500. This growth has in LPG has come at the same time that the environment has become increasingly important to Fiji and the world. There is no worse picture for a tourist destination than to see a tourist in a taxi with a filthy exhaust. With auto gas that is a sight that no one will ever see.
Safety is at the heart of Fiji Gas. It has been for 60 years and will remain so for the next 60. Mr Roger Probert famously said “I taught me all I knew, nobody knew anything about it (LPG)” One of the first things he learnt about was safety to ensure no harm came to Fiji Gas employees and customers.
Fiji Gas has come a long way since then and safety is front and centre of the organisation. Safety training is a daily occurrence. The Staff are required to make observations on a regular basis and safety awareness is extremely high. In 2014 every staff member was given a card which reads ‘AUTHORITY TO STOP UNSAFE TASK’. This empowers them to halt any job if there is any risk to ‘themselves, others or the environment.
The results can be seen because 2014-15 was the second successive year that Fiji Gas had a Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate (TRIFR) of zero.
To ensure this record continues Fiji Gas complies with Australian safety standards. The company undergoes regular audits to ensure both equipment and work practices meet the required levels.