CNMI, Port Authority Rejects Proposal That Would Bar Research Vessels

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Tension between marine resource protection and availability at issue

By Lexi Villegas Zotomayor

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 1, 2014) – The Commonwealth Ports Authority today mustered enough votes to derail a proposal to deny entry to research vessels calling at CNMI ports.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of maintaining the status quo.

Currently, research vessels including these of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are allowed entry to all CNMI ports.

Yesterday, seaports facilities chairman Benigno M. Sablan recommended that the board deny entry to these research vessels.

He argued that the federal government is taking advantage of the CNMI’s "non-enthusiastic approach" to dealing with its resources.

Sablan talked about how these research vessels would go up to the Northern Islands without advising the mayor.

He said such research led to the creation of the national marine monument.

He also said U.S. President Barack Obama intends to increase the monument area up to 200 nautical miles.

"To prevent that from happening, we can deny them entry—any research vessel," said Sablan.

He said the ports belong to CPA.

"It is incumbent upon CPA to deny entry to any research vessel," he said.

He added that these research vessels come to the islands sporadically, once or twice a year.

He said, this does not translate into much revenue.

For his part, vice chairman Thomas Villagomez argued against the proposal saying it’s not an appropriate position for CPA to take.

He said, "I am totally against restricting research vessels."

He cautioned against barring these vessels from pulling into CNMI harbor as this action may impact the commonwealth’s receipt of grants from the federal government.

"I don’t think it is the right position for CPA board to take on that issue," he said.

To this, Sablan retorted, "Is it the right decision for the federal government to take away our resources?"

Tinian member Michael H. San Nicolas asked if CPA could deny these vessels entry, to which Sablan said "yes."

Sablan said the federal government can take away submerged lands and resources.

"We voted to become U.S. citizens," Villagomez replied.

Sablan’s proposal did not get enough support, but he said he would file an appeal.

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