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By Mary Fonua

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 25) – Mooring off Tonga's Pangaimotu island this morning, a yacht belonging to one of the world's wealthiest figures may have a few weeks of idle time in Tonga while its 37 crewmembers and a controversial parrot on board seek entry to New Zealand.

An exotic African grey parrot on board Le Grand Bleu, a 100-meter-long yacht owned by Russian oil billionaire, Roman Abramovich, 39, has been the centre of a bio-security enquiry in New Zealand.

After the yacht arrived in Tonga yesterday, Tongan customs officials were satisfied with the parrot but in a rummage have seized three boxes of ammunition from the yacht, and are still enquiring about the weapons that go with them.

Tongan senior customs officer Felise Tonga Finau said that the ammunition was for three different types of firearms, which were reportedly locked in approved lockers in San Francisco, but yet to be confirmed. The rummage was standard procedure and Tonga customs would return the ammunition when the boat leaves.

He said the parrot had an international certificate of quarantine but there was some concern in New Zealand that the yacht had visited ports with avian flu and also the crew came from those countries. In New Zealand the bird will be tested for disease and any sign of avian influenza because the New Zealand Biosecurity authority needs to be satisfied the bird does not impose a risk of introducing bird or other diseases into New Zealand.

Meanwhile, David Hunt, the agent for the vessel in Tonga, said that there was no hassle with Tongan authorities and the yacht could stay in Tonga as long as the parrot does not come off the boat.

"It's a friendly parrot; it speaks Aussie and can say 'G-Day Mate!’," said David. "It came on board as an egg, has had its wings clipped and has a microchip on it - and there's masses of paperwork about it for the authorities."

The yacht, under the command of Danish Captain Yannek Olsen, has sailed from Tahiti, but the owner is not on board. The international crew includes seven Nepalese ex-British army security personel.

On board the US$100 million yacht is a helicopter, a speed boat, a 45-foot racing yacht, a 40-foot cruiser, eight jet skis, an aquarium, and a swimming pool. It is one of several yachts owned by Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea Football Club, who is estimated to have a $13.3 billion fortune.

November 28, 2005

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