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Cargo ship could ease travel for Manu’a residents

By Tupuola Terry Tavita PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (Samoa News, April 21, 2010) - Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi sympathizes with Governor Togiola Tulafono’s efforts to improve ocean travel between Tutuila and Manu’a.

"Running a shipping corporation is a very costly exercise," said Tuilaepa. "Samoa is fortunate because of the assistance from our development partners particularly Japan in providing us brand new vessels for free."

The Samoa Shipping Corporation earlier this year took delivery of a brand new custom-made 700 passenger 70-car vessel— the Motor Vessel (MV) Lady Samoa III— complete with VIP lounge, restaurants and all the luxuries and amenities required in a modern ship. Used on the inter-island route between Upolu and Savaii, the MV Lady Samoa III was built and delivered under the continuing bilateral partnership between the governments of Samoa and Japan.

"Because Samoa is an independent country, there are a lot of funding options available to us. Our major development partners are China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as well as ease of access to soft term loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) — we primarily expend on infrastructural development," said Tuilaepa.

"Our development partners do not ask for much in return — mostly support for their candidates put up for international positions handled at the diplomatic level. That one vote at the United Nations really counts," he added.

These options, the Prime Minister said, are not available to Governor Togiola and his administration as a Territory of the United States.

"We too were under a colonial administration and are well aware of the many (funding) limitations and frustrations that come with knowing what the people need and funding available from the overriding colonial authorities," said Tuilaepa.

Established in 1974, the Samoa Shipping Corporation has had four decades of maritime experience.

"Samoa Shipping has achieved a high level of management, monetary and fiscal efficiency, has amassed a pool of qualified sailors and engineers, its ships are maintained to the highest international level regularly audited by independent maritime auditors, it has an impeccable safety track record and complies with every facet of IMO (International Maritime Organization) regulations," said Tuilaepa.

"But most importantly, it’s a shipping service owned by Samoans, manned by Samoans and operated by Samoans."

Though Samoa Shipping’s fleet is currently fully utilized, the Prime Minister said, "We’re always flexible when the American Samoa government requests assistance. What’s the use of having a shipping service if you can’t help your aiga (family) in Tutuila and Manu’a?" he asked.

However, shipping is just one area where the two Samoans can cooperate.

"The optic fiber cable between Hawaii, American Samoa, Upolu and now Savaii is another good example of successful partnership. Now our people enjoy good efficient telecommunication services as costs come down," the Prime Minister noted. "There are also direct benefits to health, education, business and other areas. And I think we’ve come to the stage where we want to move deeper and deeper into a knowledge economy focus — a knowledge economy partnership."

Prime Minister Tuilaepa in the weekend led the Samoan delegation to the American Samoa flag day aboard the 100-passenger capacity MV Lady Filifilia cruise boat— that commercially operates as Talofa Cruises.

"Talofa Cruises was set up because we do not want to put all our eggs in one basket. Tourism, I need not remind, has become a major money spinner to the local economy. Some tourists want to lie on the beach, others go on bush and waterfall excursions, many want to gamble at the casino while others prefer an ocean cruise. That’s what Samoa Shipping’s MV Lady Filifilia is for," he said.

"That is also why we are legislating for a casino exclusively for visitors. Their foreign passport is their only permit to play. The proceeds from such ventures will fund sports and other charitable activities."

Any assistance required by Manu’a and Tutuila, the Prime Minister said, his government stands ready to discuss with American Samoa officials.

[Editor’s Note: Samoa News reprints this story with permission from Tupuola, who is also the editor of the Samoa government owned Le Savali newspaper]

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