Former Tuvaluan P.M. references Samoa in mining ban call

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 18 June 2021, 1:00PM

Former Prime Minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga referred to past talks in Samoa when warning against profiteering from sovereign assets and “selling out” while calling for a regional ban on deep sea mining. 

Mr. Sopoaga made the call in the course of recent talks about the future of deep sea mining in Pacific states' sovereign economic zones. 

Speaking in a Pacific Blue Line webinar early this month, Mr. Sopoaga said Pacific island nations are vulnerable to exploitation of their ocean beds and the vulnerabilities can cause serious problems.

In Tuvalu, for instance, people are discussing selling passports to foreigners as a way of making money.

Similarly, seabed mining is a good candidate for island nations to “sell out” without thinking of the environment and how it could consequently affect the livelihoods and fisheries in the Pacific, he said.

In Blue Pacific conversations, Pacific island leaders have already committed to protecting the environment in blue Pacific conversation in Samoa, Nauru and Tuvalu, Mr. Sopoaga noted.

“These vulnerabilities…can present serious situations for island countries. We know there is a special hunger now, for money, hunger for income for revenue, and this is prevailing in, especially in government’s level, where Governments are entering into the possibility of passport schemes… selling passports," he said according to a transcript of the meeting provided to the Samoa Observer. 

"National sovereignties, you know, trying to make profits out of national sovereignty assets, and we hear around including my own country Tuvalu.

“People are talking about selling passports to foreigners as a way of making income of revenue, of making money. Not only that, there is all also talking about Bitcoin, all sorts of funny businesses that, that they think can be good sources of revenue.

"Now, in that context, and against that such a background, we can already see seabed mining as possible a good candidate for, to be a sell out for Island countries without due consideration of the environmental problems, the pollution issues, plumes problems that may affect all the livelihood in the oceans and fisheries of the Pacific Island countries.”

It’s important to go back to the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum to make a commitment to ban seabed mining in the Pacific.

He also suggests taking the issue to the global level, the United Nations.

He made reference to past advocacy at that form by blue Pacific leaders from countries such as Samoa, Nauru and Tuvalu. 

"I think it is really important for us to go back to the Pacific Island Leaders Forum for the Pacific Forum leaders to make a commitment towards working towards a total ban of seabed mining in the Pacific region, but perhaps also take it up to the global level,” said Mr. Sopoaga.

Pacific nations, he said, must connect with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the International Seabed Authority and the U.N.’s Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General is our own son, Ambassador Thompson of Fiji.

“We need to communicate and take the message of the Pacific Island leaders to him, through him to go up to the U.N., to make sure the U.N.C.L.O.S., you know safeguards the rights and the protection of livelihood in the Pacific Island countries," said Mr. Sopoaga.

"Not only as a means, not the means of getting or getting economic benefits for a few for so few people, and we really need to coordinate and work collectively and take our voice there.

“Our Pacific Ocean commissioner has to do a work to communicate with Ambassador Thomson, and we now have a new Secretary General, the [former] Prime Minister Henry Puna of Cook Islands. 

"I think he’s well aware, he’s got practical experience there in Cook Islands, and we need to really encourage the forum to take up this task for us to make sure that we protect the oceans of the Pacific Island countries, and the region, away from the these proposals for deep sea mining to come to the Pacific.”

Seabed mining has “to go together with our concerns with climate change, of course, and sea level rise, affecting our island countries,” he said.

“Money is money, but it will take away our sovereignty, and if we are not careful, we will have no islands left to enjoy our livelihood on,” said Mr. Sopoaga.

Exploiting the ocean floor creates more environmental problems for the Pacific.

“As we have already spoken many times in the Pacific Island Leaders Forum in the context of that process, we have committed ourselves by leaders to make sure we protect and save our oceans, and this call has political ramifications and meaning as well,” he said.

“If you can recall we started way back in dealing with issues that affect the protections and the saving of our oceans whilst mainly focusing on fisheries. 

"We have been dealing with the issues of avoiding seabed mining in the Pacific region, particularly in our national Exclusive Economic Zone (E.E.Z.), and I think our individual legislation in countries have highlighted the need to protect that and to continue to synchronize and perhaps integrate better into the political arena.”

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 18 June 2021, 1:00PM
Samoa Observer

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