6 Jul 2021

In brief: news from around the Pacific

9:24 pm on 6 July 2021

Nauru near completing Covid-19 vaccination, Bougainville puts a pause on new mining ventures, PNG PM explains Covid-19 measures, Freighters entry to American Samoa delayed over Covid concerns; Cooks to continue down own path on deep sea mining, 23rd anniversary of Biak massacre, Hawaiian activist Trask dies

A worker on the frontline of Auckland's Jet Park Hotel quarantine facility being vaccinated against Covid-19 on 20 February 2021.

Photo: Supplied / Ministry of Health

Nauru near completing Covid-19 vaccination

With just a handful of people needing their second Covid-19 jab, the Nauru Government says the adult population is fully vaccinated.

The President Lionel Aingimea says 7,457 people received the first shot and 6,779 have got the second.

He says the remaining 678 need to ensure they have the shot before the vaccine expires in 10 days.

The president says there is a high degree of confidence that nearly all adults on Nauru are now protected from the coronavirus.

The vaccination process took four weeks.

Those under 18, and so not eligible for the Astra Zeneca vaccine, make up about 40 percent of the island's population.

The Health Taskforce is in discussions about obtaining more vaccines and repatriating Nauruans overseas, especially from Fiji and Taiwan.

Freighters entry to American Samoa delayed over Covid concerns

Two freighters which off loaded cargo in Fiji before arriving in Pago Pago Harbor last week were required to wait outside for 7 days as a precaution against Covid-19.

These were the Coral Islander II which arrived Tuesday and the Olomana which arrived the following day.

The acting director of health Vesi Talalelei Fautanu said American Samoa was not taking any chances.

The Olomana, which is carrying foodstuffs, has now headed to Rarotonga and then Apia before it will return to Pago Pago.

The Coral Islander II is carrying many containers of building materials and is going to Papeete, then to Nuku'alofa, before returning to Pago Pago.

It was earlier denied entry into Apia.

NZ PM has 'faith' in Samoa's systems to resolve impasse

New Zealand's prime minister says she continues to have faith in Samoa's government systems to resolve the country's electoral impasse.

This is despite the Head of State and the judiciary being at odds over which has constitutional primacy over the right to call parliament to convene.

The Head of State on Sunday night disregarded the Supreme Court's ruling for parliament to convene yesterday.

Jacinda Ardern said after cabinet on Monday she had not received an updated briefing but continued to trust in the judiciary and electoral system which have delivered a clear path for the country.

"Our view is that all individuals, all political parties , we would have encouraged and hoped would be upholding the decisions of the judiciary. You know, we hold great faith in the systems of Samoa."

Samoa caretaker govt extends Covid SOE

The Samoa caretaker government has extended the Covid 19 State of Emergency until 1 August.

The extension was declared by the Head of State after consultations with the caretaker cabinet of Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi.

A caretaker government statement said the Head of State was satisfied that a grave emergency still existed.

Bougainville puts a pause on new mining ventures

The Bougainville Government wants to put its house in order before it allows any new mining endeavours.

But the administration of the autonomous Papua New Guinea province has made it clear that existing ventures will be allowed to continue.

In a media release, the Minister for Mineral and Energy Resources, Rodney Osioco, said there would be no lifting of the existing mining moratorium "until certain issues are addressed."

He said "Given Bougainville's unfortunate mining-related history, and the recent fatal incidents at two current exploration sites, the government is going to be cautious in its approach to mineral exploration."

The Minister wants to review procedures for the granting of mineral exploration licences given Bougainville's complex systems of land ownership, land use and land tenure.

The Bougainville government wants to control the rate of development to ensure beneficial evolution of its social structures and cultural values and to preserve a resource base for future generations.

"Already I am seeing a concerning trend, I will not see a repetition of unattended escalated landowner mining-related grievances under my watch," he said.

Another concern is the lack of human resource capacity in the sector.

Minister Osioco said that mineral sector development needs to be broken up into practical, distinct, and manageable phases that will allow for the phased building of regulatory capacity over time.

He said "let us fix existing problems, develop existing projects, put our house in order, before we start creating more issues."

Mr Osioco said the government also wants to amend legislation to include effective grievance mechanisms so it can respond to issues raised by local communities.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war.

The Panguna copper and gold mine in Bougainville was closed down for operations in 1989 at the start of the civil war. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

PNG PM explains Covid-19 measures

The Papua New Guinea Prime Minister, James Marape, has assured the country that freedom of movement is a fundamental right, protected under the constitution.

This followed the release of a measure by the pandemic controller that aimed to restrict any unvaccinated persons from travelling domestically.

Mr Marape says the government is not about to undermine this right in any way, but it is a fundamental responsibility of any government to protect its citizens from harm.

He said "the Government takes full responsibility to ensure that Covid-19, and any variant of the virus, is prevented from spreading to other parts of the country."

He said the control of the movement of people locally and inter-provincially is therefore a fundamental strategy to take control of this spread.

Mr Marape said it's not designed to curtail freedom of movement as a fundamental right, but a strategy to minimise the spread of the virus.

Cook Islands to pursue own path on deep sea mining

The Cook Islands will continue to support the International Seabed Authority in developing seabed mining regulations, and will continue to follow its own process at its own pace.

That's the word from Prime Minister Mark Brown after the Nauru Government last week triggered the so called 'two-year rule.'

By this action it notified the ISA of its plans to begin deep-sea mining by 2023 under whatever rules are in place.

The Cook Islands News reports Mr Brown saying it wants the ISA to develop a robust and effective framework that supports the sustainable management of the deep-seabed.

The Cook Islands is considering four exploration licence applications to mine the nation's polymetallic nodule resources.

Mining for copper under the sea

Mining for copper under the sea Photo: Nautilus Minerals

A government official said an update on timeframes on this decision-making process is likely sometime this month.

Mr Brown says a "a key objective of our exploration licensing process is to enable research within our waters under the principles enshrined under our Marae Moana."

"This will help provide Government with the vital data and information it needs about our deep sea marine environment and the potential impacts of mining to make an informed decision about whether to proceed any further".

"We will continue to follow the process we have set for ourselves and at our own pace."

PM Brown said currently not enough is known about the deep sea environment to commence mining operations.

"Within the Cook Islands waters, we currently do not have enough information to make that decision," he said.

"We will continue to proceed with a precautionary approach, making decisions based on the best available science to responsibly manage our seabed minerals resources and maintain our marine biodiversity", Brown said.

23rd anniversary of Biak massacre

Today, 6th July, marks the 23rd anniversary of the Biak massacre in Papua.

In July 1998 the independence Morning Star flag was raised and on the morning of the 6th people gathered for a rally.

But as numbers grew, Indonesia troops fired on them with an unknown number killed.

32 bodies were reportedly found out to sea.

There were also 150 arrests made by the security forces.

The spokesperson for the Australian West Papua Association, Joe Collins, says it's tragic that no charges have ever been brought against the military who fired on the protestors.

He says the West Papuan people continue to be arrested, intimated and killed and there are ongoing clashes between the security forces and West Papuan militants.

Hawaiian activist Trask dies

The Pacific and the world are mourning the loss of Kanaka Maoli academic and activist Haunani-Kay Trask.

She died at the weekend, aged 71.

Trask began her career as a University of Hawai'i assistant professor in 1981.

She became the director of the Kamakakuokalani Centre for Hawaiian Studies, before retiring in 2010.

Her literature advocated for indigenous self-determination and decolonisation, in an unrelenting fight for Hawai'i to gain independence from the United States.

The Ka Lahui Hawai'i sovereignty movement which Dr Trask helped found, revere her as the most important voice in educating and empowering her island and the world about Hawaiian history.