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Fisheries observers repatriated on chartered flight

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (F.F.A.) has successfully repatriated nine fisheries observers to their respective countries on a chartered flight.

The repatriation occurred on Tuesday, July 7 with the observers disembarking from American fishing boats in Pago Pago, American Samoa over the past several weeks, according to a statement released by the F.F.A.

The repatriation exercise was financed by the American Tunaboat Association [A.T.A.] member vessel owners and coordinated closely with the observers’ national programmes which is overseen by the Honiara-based F.F.A.

The repatriated observers included two Fijians, four Solomon Islanders, and three Papua New Guineans – who are currently being quarantined in different quarantine locations in their home countries – since they returned home. 

Another observer from P.N.G arrived in Port Moresby on Tuesday earlier this week.

The F.F.A. statement said due to the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, some of the observers have been away from home since December last year.

The F.F.A. has temporarily suspended the requirement for 100 per cent observer coverage on all purse seine vessels in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean in March this year, which also calls for vessel operators to repatriate observers that are on their vessels.

“F.F.A is sincerely grateful to the A.T.A. Executive Director and its members for the hard work with the relevant national observer programmes and the F.F.A. Secretariat to ensure the safe return of our observers,” the F.F.A Director-General, Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen said after the successful repatriation. “The extraordinary situation we’re all faced with calls for closer cooperation, and this is a great example of this.”

The A.T.A. Executive Director, William Gibbons-Fly said: “The repatriation of the observers has been a considerable challenge from the very beginning but it was one that the Association was committed to ensuring happened safely, and in as timely a manner as possible.”

He further stated that he is pleased to say they received very strong support from the Governor’s office in American Samoa as well as senior officials in the American territory’s departments of health, transportation, immigration and others.

The A.T.A Executive Director also stated that to ensure that the repatriation exercise ran smoothly they also worked very closely with the officials in Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea as well as with the F.F.A. staff.  

“Without exception, everyone was tremendously supportive and cooperative,” he said.

The successful repatriation flight follows the earlier repatriation of other observers who had been on US Treaty-vessels and who were dropped off at their home ports in the region.   

This included a Marshall Islands observer who was finally dropped off in the Majuro port after going all the way to Mexico and back which lasted several weeks.

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