AUCKLAND, New Zealand (PINA, Jan. 5) - New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff wants answers about Cyclone Zoe relief work after a journalist's efforts embarrassed the Australian, New Zealand and Solomon Islands governments.

New Zealand photojournalist Geoff Mackley flew by helicopter from northern Vanuatu to bring the first emergency supplies to Tikopia islanders in the southeastern Solomons. He had already landed on Tikopia as delayed Australian and New Zealand-funded boats sailed from the Solomons capital, Honiara, with supplies and Solomon Islands relief workers.

Goff told Television New Zealand his officials had told him there was no other way to get to Tikopia.

"I will be seeking new reports," he said after hearing of Mr Mackley's chartered helicopter flight from neighboring Vanuatu.

Amidst criticism of Australia's response, Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Kevin Rudd said the Pacific Islands Forum must take a greater role and responsibility.

Rudd told Australian journalists the Forum should consider setting up a regional command center to keep abreast of weather developments and pass on information about relief needs.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer defended Australia's efforts.

Downer said the islands were in a very remote part of the world in a very poor country which had gone through great difficulties in recent years, ABC Radio reported.

But Australian news media reports have pointed out Australia's early relief efforts for Tikopia of A$270,000 in comparison to the A$10 million spent rescuing a British sailor in the Southern Ocean in 1997.

Fears over the fate of the third inhabited island hit by Zoe lifted after a French military helicopter island hopped from New Caledonia to Mota Lava in northern Vanuatu.

The island's estimated 1,000 inhabitants had been cut off from communication since Cyclone Zoe began lashing it last Saturday. But the French news agency AFP quoted the helicopter crew as saying everyone was safe.

Mackley on New Year's Day was the first to fly over the island, reaching it by single-engine plane from northern Vanuatu. Two days later he landed on the island in a chartered helicopter, flying from northern Vanuatu again.

He carried the first relief supplies to reach the islanders. These were paid for by The Australian, the national newspaper of Australia.

Mackley reported that all of Tikopia’s more than 1,000 people had survived by sheltering in mountain caves they had used for generations during such storms.

Cyclone Zoe is believed to have hit the islands with winds of more than 350kph and seas of more than 10 meters. Buildings and food crops were destroyed, and water supplies contaminated.

In Honaria, Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) reported the traditional ways of the people of Tikopia have once again saved their lives, as they have done generation after generation.

Yates said they have so far loaded the patrol boat Auki and the MV Isabella for their emergency voyages to Tikopia and Anuta.

He said Tikopians serving in the Police Force have formed the Disaster Corps and are now on their way to the two islands to assist in distribution of relief supplies and rebuilding of houses.

January 6, 2003

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