MAJURO FACING MAIL BLACKOUT

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (October 16, 1998 - Marshall islands Journal)---It's supposed to be "off-peak" season for airlines, but virtually no mail is being flown into Majuro this month by Continental Micronesia -- forcing the U.S. Postal Service to send first class mail by sea on Matson's monthly barge service.

Little priority air mail arrived in Majuro from the outside world in the first two weeks except for a large shipment of September's priority mail sent by sea on the Matson cargo ship.

Continental officials in Honolulu told U.S. Postal Service officials that the airline would be unable to handle first class mail from October 1-15, according to Majuro post office staff. Even express and registered mail is not arriving on Continental, according to assistant Postmaster Danny Note.

Mail delivery to Majuro has worsened in the past two years, as Continental reduced its service connecting Majuro with Guam and Hawai‘i from four to three flights. But last month, Continental Micronesia cut the service to just two flights weekly, and little mail has arrived since then.

Continental is the only carrier on the Honolulu to Guam route, but it does not have a contract with the U.S. Postal Service to carry mail to the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

U.S. Postal Service officials advised the Majuro post office that because of the inability of Continental to carry mail, a big shipment of first class mail for Majuro was shipped on the Matson barge "Islander."

The U.S. Postal Service must treat mail for the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia as "domestic," while in effect having to deal with a foreign nation, said a Postal Service official in response to questions about mail service to the Marshall Islands. Because of this situation, the U.S. Postal Service is "unable to exercise the same level of control that we normally do with domestic mail," the official said.

In the past, the fishing company Ting Hong has carried mail from Guam to Majuro on its flights to pickup tuna shipments in the Marshalls. Note said U.S. Postal Service officials advised him that they have been discussing the mail situation with Ting Hong officials, but that Ting Hong has indicated to the U.S. Postal Service that it cannot carry mail at this time.

When Continental announced it was reducing its flights through the Marshalls and the Federated States of Micronesia to two each week -- except during peak seasons when it would add additional fights -- beginning September 1, the FSM government fully supported the alternate service schedule, while the Marshall Islands supported the schedule for peak months but objected to the elimination of the flight that included a stop in Majuro, the USPS official said.

"The essential problem is that Continental and the governments of the Marshall Islands and Micronesia have agreed to a new air service pattern, which they have every right to do, thus forcing us to tailor our 'domestic' service to their new routes," the USPS official said.

MARSHALL ISLANDS JOURNAL Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com Fax: 692-625-3136 Tel. 692-625-8143 Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year: US $87.00; International $227.00 (air mail)

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