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Total support US$1.6 million so far

By Giff Johnson

KOROR, Palau (Palau Horizon, April 14, 2008) – Taiwan Ambassador Bruce J. D. Linghu presented a check for US$600,000 to Foreign Minister Tony deBrum and assistant secretary of Finance Jemi Nashion this week, bringing to $1.6 million the amount injected to the ailing national airline since January.

Both Air Marshall Islands planes have been grounded since October 10 last year, and despite the injection of Taiwan funds, AMI officials are still unsure when one of the two planes will begin flying.

Last week, a second Bikinian living on a remote outer island died for lack of medical evacuation services, and the Bikinians’ scuba dive business at the former nuclear test site has been forced to refund thousands of dollars in fees to divers from Europe and elsewhere because there is no air service to Bikini.

"Over the years, bilateral relations between Marshall Islands and Taiwan have been further strengthened through many joint efforts," Linghu said at the check ceremony. "In response to the financial assistance need for the AMI’s recovery plan, the government of the Republic of China acknowledged the importance of the airline to the Marshall Islands’ infrastructure as it provides essential services for transportation, health, education and welfare as well as economic development in the communities of the outer islands."

Taiwan provided a $1 million check for the airline on January 18.

But parts ordered and received last week for the 34-seat Dash-8 did not fit the plane, necessitating discussions between AMI and the manufacturer to resolve the issue, said AMI general manager Dan Fitzpatrick. Mechanics were working on the plane at week’s end, with additional parts expected to arrive on the weekend and test flights possible early next week.

But Bikini Atoll Divers official Jack Niedenthal said that the airline has offered no guarantee of service for next Wednesday’s weekly flight to Bikini, forcing him to cancel the next group of international divers scheduled to fly to Bikini. "We’re considering pulling the plug on the entire program if AMI can’t get its planes into operation soon," Niedenthal said. Bikini launched scuba diving in 1996 on a fleet of World War II warships sunk by atom bomb tests in 1946, building a successful destination.

Niedenthal said the dive schedule for 2008 and 2009 is virtually completely booked.

Since Air Marshall Islands collapsed last October, however, Bikini has been forced to cancel numerous visits by divers to the atoll.

Bikini Senator Tomaki Juda reported to the Nitijela, or parliament, that last week a nine month old baby boy died because he could not be medically evacuated to Majuro to receive a blood transfusion. He is the second Bikini child to die since AMI stopped flying last October. In late October, a sick 11-year-old Bikini girl died on a ship during a medical evacuation from Kili Island to the main hospital in Majuro.

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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