Monday, August 18, 2008

[PBN] Pohnpei Coconut Products Plant burns for the second time

From: Kaselehlia Press - 06/08/2008

Kadalino Sam heard the news just after midnight on Wednesday, the early morning hours of July 24. A neighbor called him to tell him that the Pohnpei Coconut Products plant in Madolenihmw was ablaze. Sam, a share holder in Pohnpei Coconut Products Incorporated and his neighbors went to work on the fire with a garden hose while waiting for the Fire Department to arrive. Peterson Sam, Kadalino’s son said that the fire truck arrived at approximately 2:00 in the morning. When the truck left to refill its water tank locals kept watch over the fire with the one garden hose available to them.

By the time the long night was over the plant had burned down for the second time since the plant opened in 1979. Kadalino said that it burned once before in the mid 1980’s. The company has no fire insurance. He estimated that 70 to 80% of the plant equipment was lost to the fire. He said that the refinery equipment that produces coconut oil used to power diesel engines didn’t seem to be damaged. PCPI had been refining the oil and selling at a per gallon price that is significantly lower than the per gallon price of diesel fuel.

The plant burned down once before in the 1980’s. They recovered then and Kadalino Sam who is one of the founders of the corporation said that the company can be revived once again.

According to PCPI’s website ( the company began during the Trust Territory days in 1974 when the Congress of Micronesia in Saipan gave Pohnpei Agricultural and Trade School (PATS) a $9,000 appropriation to explore development of coconut products.

In 1974, the world market price for copra was 3 cents a pound. There was little economic incentive for farmers to grow and harvest coconuts at that price.
In 1979, with the support of the FSM and Pohnpei State governments as well as several PATS benefactors, a refinery plant and a soap plant were purchased and built in Madolenihmw, Pohnpei.
By 1989 both PCPI and the FSM Government felt that it was time to continue operations on its own and the company was incorporated on November 16 of that year. PCPI sells bath soap and shampoo under the “Kaselel” brand name, hair and body oil, powder soap and suntan oil in addition to coconut “fuel”. Coconut oil burns cleaner than diesel but can only be used in climates with temperatures that remain constant enough to keep the oil from solidifying. The website boasts that the soaps and oils are biodegradable.

They also sell non-coconut products like Sakau and Pohnpei black pepper, a black pepper that gourmet chefs from around the world have hailed as the best. The selling price of copra is not much better today than it was in 1974. Pohnpei Coconut Products recently faced a shortage of copra. However, just a few weeks ago they bought 200 bags of the coconut product from the FSM’s Coconut Development Authority. PCPI pays 15 cents a pound for husked and chopped copra. Each of the bags they recently bought contained 100 pounds of copra, a total of 10 tons purchased for $3000 at PCP’s current purchase rate.

Peterson Sam said that before the plant burned down they had converted 36 bags, 1.8 tons of copra into fuel that would run in diesel engines. The remaining 8.2 tons was burned in the July 24 fire. The Sam’s said that Pohnpei State Police Officials were investigating the cause of the blaze.

When The Kaselehlie Press interviewed the Sam’s there was a tiny padlock on the gate and no police line tape on the scene. We asked whether the company had any enemies that might burn down the plant. Kadalino and Peterson said that they couldn’t think of any one. “No one around here would do it”, said Peterson.

Inside the burned out structure, electrical wires that appeared to be haphazardly run, dangled at eye level. Peterson said that when the plant closes for the night the generator that provides power to the plant is shut down. After that there is no electrical power in those lines. The plant is not connected to power provided by Pohnpei Utilities Corporation. Nothing was different on the night of the fire. The source of the blaze could not have been an electrical problem. When asked if he had any theories on what might have caused the fire, Kadalino Sam speculated that it might have been caused by spontaneous combustion of copra cake that could have been bagged before it had thoroughly cooled after the heat drying process.

PCPI is pursuing all avenues available to them to finance the rebuilding of the plant. If they are able to secure financing, Peterson said that they hope to build a fire proof storage room for the dried copra. At press time a police report had not yet been completed.

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