France to foot Wallis-and-Futuna's huge Nouméa hospital bill
The French government has agreed to step in and settle an accumulated debt of some 542 millions French Pacific Francs (CFP, about 5 millions US dollars) incurred by Wallis-and-Futuna's medical evacuations and care in Nouméa hospital.
This is supposed to absorb at least part of the unpaid bill for over one year by Wallis-and-Futuna's public Health Agency, New Caledonia's public broadcaster La Première reports.
The Paris nod comes after a joint request from New Caledonia's French National Assembly MP Philippe Dunoyer (Avenir Ensemble party) and his Wallisian counterpart MP Mikaele Seo.
They further asked that from now on, in order to avoid such embarrassing situations, a permanent provision should be dedicated to allow Wallis-and-Futuna's public Health Agency to pay for such future medical evacuations and care to New Caledonia, where a population of over 10,000 Wallisians and Futunians reside permanently.
New Caledonia and Wallis-and-Futuna are both French Pacific territories, but the latter does not have a hospital.
France hands over cheque for Vanuatu's Council of Chiefs rebuilding
The French government has contributed to the rebuilding of Vanuatu's Malvatumauri (council of chiefs), which was destroyed by fire in January this year.
French ambassador to Vanuatu Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer handed over a cheque of 1.5 million Vatu (about 13,600 US Dollars) towards the rebuilding of the Chiefs' Nakamal, especially its roof, the French Embassy in Port Vila said last week.
The contribution came following a pledge made by French President Emmanuel Macron during his visit to Port Vila late July 2023, as part of an Indo-Pacific-themed tour, a first since the French-British condominium of the New Hebrides gained its independence and became Vanuatu in July 1980.
The previous French President to visit was General de Gaulle in 1966.
France against Pacific deep-sea mining, prefers research: minister
France is against Pacific deep-sea mining, but encourages research, Secretary of State for the Seas Hervé Berville said during his recent visit to the region.
Berville was last week part of the delegation representing France at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders summit in Rarotonga (Cook Islands), then went on to French Polynesia (which represents about half of France's Exclusive Economic Zone area) for four days.
"There is, at this stage, not sufficient knowledge and this (deep seas exploitation) could lead to potentially irreversible damage to marine ecosystems. On the other hand, we must absolutely accelerate our research efforts", said Berville, who holds a position similar to that of Assistant Minister.
A new oceanographic research vessel, the Michel-Rocard, is scheduled to be commissioned by 2027 for scientific research in the Pacific and Antarctic regions, French President Macron announced announced on 10 November at a so-called "One Planet - Polar Summit" held in Paris.
The 70-meter-long vessel project is to be named after former French Prime minister Michel Rocard who was also the first French ambassador for the North and South Poles.
It will be jointly based in Nouméa (New Caledonia) from March to November for campaigns in the South Pacific and Hobart (Australia) from December to February for Antarctic-dedicated campaigns.
Calls for tenders for the construction of the vessel are scheduled to be launched by the end of 2024.
More to combat illegal fishing
While in French Polynesia, Berville also described illegal fishing as a "crucial sovereignty challenge", adding steps were currently underway to strike new cooperation agreements with Pacific neighbouring countries.
The focal point, there again, was to detect and combat illegal unregulated and unreported fishing in the South Pacific and to mount more joint regional surveillance capabilities.
For the same purpose, from 23 October to 3 November 2023, a "KURUKURU 23" Joint exercise brought together, under the coordination of the Pacific Islands Forum's Fisheries Agency (FFA), navies from France (based in New Caledonia), the Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
'P-QUAD' = Australia, NZ, France, US
Another noticeable component was a so-called P-QUAD (Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group), a 4-member alliance made up of Australia, New Zealand, France and the United States which seems to reflect US President Biden's wish to bring back a stronger US presence in the Pacific Ocean.
"KURUKURU 23" has allowed to "reposition" five fishing vessels and the conduct VHF radio interrogations", the French Defence ministry said in a release.
They stressed the joint operations have also allowed all participating forces to improve their "inter-operability" while at the same time "contributing to this strategic zone's maritime security".