Solomons Man ‘Had Permission’ To Take Sea Cucumbers

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Solomons Man ‘Had Permission’ To Take Sea Cucumbers Doctor alleges officials present during removal of bags

By Charley Piringi

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Oct. 18, 2013) – In Solomon Islands, a man who led a group to remove 59 bags of beche-de-mer, also called sea cucumbers, from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Monday, claimed he was given permission to do what he did.

Dr. Reginald Aipia, who runs a private medical clinic in Honiara, said he wrote to the Ministry asking permission to get the beche-de-mer products to his home so that he could dry them regularly under sunlight because they were old stocks.

"The director of fisheries John Teri gave me the option to do that so this was why I went to the ministry and took the bags to my place on Monday," Dr. Aipia said.

He denied arriving at the ministry early in the morning as Mr. Teri said in a report the Solomon Star published yesterday.

"No, we get there at around 9:30am and not 6am," he said.

"Fisheries officials were there when we arrived and stood by as we carried the bags into the vehicle.

"There was nothing hidden or secret about what we did. It was all done in front of the fisheries officials," Dr. Aipia said.

But the ministry last night said they have not given Dr. Aipia permission to remove the beche-de-mer products.

[PIR editor's note: Fisheries Director Teri meanwhile has refuted Aipia's claims, accusing him of misleading the public. He also said, after the bags were removed, authorities went to Aipia's residences in Vura and Lord Howe Settlement but could not find any trace of the sea cucumbers.]

Explaining the situation surrounding the bags of beche-de-mer, Dr. Aipia said in August this year, his people of Ontong Java voluntarily surrendered 35 tonnes of beche-de-mer to the Ministry of Fishery.

This was done on the understanding that the Government will sell the products and give 90% of the funds to the people.

"I have spent my own money, chartered MV Ortega to bring the surrendered products to Honiara. The Government failed to live up to its promise.

"Three months lifting of the beche-de-mer harvest ban the government made earlier this year is not enough.

"So when Prime Minister Lilio visited Ontong Java recently, he promised our people that they can continue to harvest beche-de-mer for another three month.

"My people took the words of the prime minister and continue to harvest beche-de-mer for another three months.

"Now the government has again faltered on its promise to my people."

Dr. Aipia claimed because the people are going hungry, they brought beche-de-mer to his shop on Ontonga Java and exchanged them for goods.

Last week, fisheries officials and police travelled to Ontong Java and confiscated the beche-de-mer products from Dr. Aipia’s shop.

He claimed when the officers arrived on the island, they made an agreement that when the products are shipped to Honiara, he would be allowed to keep them at his residence to ensure the beche-de-mer are kept in good conditions.

"I intend to also apply for a special permit to export the products while at the same time prepare to pay any penalties the government may wish to impose on me for violating the beche-de-mer ban.

"But in Honiara, the officials did not keep to the agreement and instead took the stock to their office.

"Last Wednesday, I wrote a letter to the Director of Fisheries John Teri, requesting to remove the products to my residence so that I can maintain their condition, while I wait for the charge to be laid against me.

"The action I took on Monday was an option Mr. Teri gave me," he said.

Dr. Aipia also denied taking the stock to MP Steve Abana’s warehouse.

"I have not spoken to Mr. Abana, nor do I have any links with him.

"The beche-de-mer products are not at Anolpha’s warehouse, but at my place at the Lord Howe settlement, where I am keeping them and drying them in the sun."

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