HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Paoa FM/PINA, Jan. 2) – The crew of a Solomon Islands Police patrol boat are reported to have demanded to be paid before they sail to the cyclone-hit islands of Tikopia and Anuta.

News of the pay problem came amidst continuing delays in the departure of the patrol boat to take officials and medical and relief supplies to the remote islands.

The Australian High Commission earlier provided money to buy fuel for the boat to leave, with the Solomon Islands Government facing a continuing financial crisis.

National Disaster Management Office officers then said they were waiting for money from the government. They said they needed this to buy food supplies to take for the islanders, with all food crops on the islands almost certainly destroyed.

The questions over the patrol boat crew's pay come amidst regular confrontations between public officers and the government over overdue and unpaid salaries.

Tikopia and Anuta faced the full brunt of Cyclone Zoe last weekend, with reports of winds reaching more than 300 kilometres per hour and huge seas.

At least 1,200 and up to 2000 people could have been on the two islands when Zoe hit. Officials in Honiara are uncertain how many because of the breakdown in government services since the country's ethnic conflict.

The islands are in the countries far southeast, near Vanuatu.

So far a plane chartered by a photojournalist and a Royal Australian Air Force flight have been over the islands. But the islanders have no airstrip and are dependent on the patrol boat bringing help.

From the time the patrol boat finally leaves Honiara it will take at least two days for it to reach the islands.

January 2, 2003

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