American Samoa investigates Kite Runner

By Shalveen Chand 25 May 2023, 8:00PM

The American Samoa-registered boat Kite Runner which illegally entered Samoa’s territorial waters last month is currently the subject of two investigations in the U.S. territory.

Media reports from American Samoa say there are two investigations, one by the Department of Homeland Security and the other by the Marine Patrol Division of the Department of Search and Rescue.

Talanei reported that investigators from the Department of Homeland Security did interviews with the departments that are normally involved in the clearance of vessels leaving port.

Homeland Security Director Samana Semo Ve’avea confirmed to Talanei that his department has launched an investigation because, he says, it does involve security issues.

Employees of Port Administration and Customs have been interviewed about the clearance process for vessels before they depart.

Talanei reported that sources have said that the Kite Runner didn’t have a certificate of clearance when it arrived in Samoa. This certificate is issued by American Samoa Customs and Port. It was alleged in the report that the certificate of clearance was issued after the vessel arrived in Apia.

While KVZK News reported that the Marine Patrol Division of the Department of Search and Rescue is investigating how the Kite Runner was able to travel to Samoa without proper documentation to enter Samoa’s borders.

Chief of Marine Patrol Division, Ina Ulberg confirmed this in an interview with KVZK news.  

"We are gathering statements from the three crew members that were on board the Kite Runner in question,” he is quoted as saying. "We will be also seeking a report from Samoa’s Ministry of Police and Prisons from their investigation."

On 27 April 2023, the Kite Runner was detained temporarily by the Samoan Police patrol boats after the vessel had offloaded goods in Savaii. On the same day, the vessel was allowed to leave after the required paperwork was submitted and approved within hours after the detaining of the boat. 

In the same week, Samoa’s Minister for Communication, Information, and Technology, Toelupe Poumulinuku Onesemo was questioned about his involvement in filling out the paperwork for the Pago Pago-based boat owner. On 5 May 2023, the Minister questioned a Samoa Observer senior journalist in his office for two hours, where he also admitted that his cousin Letitia Tish Peau was employed by the owner of the Kite Runner. The same evening, a policewoman made a phone call to the journalist and advised that the Minister had lodged a complaint against her, but a day later this was refuted by the police's top brass. 

On 16 May 2023, Police Commissioner, Auapa'au Logoitino Filipo confirmed that the Police investigation into the Kite Runner was completed and submitted to the Cabinet. He asked this newspaper to get comments from the Cabinet on the report's findings as the Police have done their part and submitted the report. 

Asked whether any Cabinet Ministers were involved in organising the vessel's paperwork to enter Samoa, Auapa'au said the response to that question has to come from the Cabinet.

"But I don't think there was anything of that sort according to our investigation," he added. 

On 19 May 2023, the Minister for Works, Transport, and Infrastructure, Olo Fiti Vaai said that because the Kite Runner was a "pleasure boat" and not a commercial vessel and therefore did not warrant an inspection by his Ministry. 

By Shalveen Chand 25 May 2023, 8:00PM
Samoa Observer

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