Op-Ed: DOES STARKIST REALLY NEED A COLD STORAGE?
Does Starkist really need a cold storage? ABSOLUTELY.
In the actual circumstances, they need a cold storage because they are competing with Trimarine that is building a cold storage and the boats will have a choice to unload there instead of waiting to unload in Starkist.
But the question is DOES STARKIST WANT TO BUILD A COLD STORAGE?
To answer this question, the following are the facts — you draw your own conclusions:
1) Starkist had a cold storage on leased ASPA land that they lost, because they "forgot" to renew their lease with ASPA. It was a 4,500 ton cold storage facility more or less.
But, they didn't use it as a cold storage (this is how much they thought about this). They used it as a packing room for pouches, and a storage room for materials.
They were using the fishing boats as cold storage to save money.They had the tuna seiners waiting, sometimes as long as six weeks, to be unloaded. This is why some of the seiners opted to go and operate out of Majuro and transship from there.
This situation was maintained for years, and it was not until Trimarine acquired the Samoa Packing facilities, and Starkist let the lease run out, that they started crying for a cold storage.
Before that, the crying was, "we need to maintain low minimum wages or else we leave", then it was "we need ASPIRE or else we leave", and now it is "we need a cold storage or else". So there is always a reason to threaten to leave.
2) Due to the claim that they needed urgently a cold storage, the government considered the main dock or port area as an alternative because the only other area available would have been the Marist Brothers area in Atuu, and the terrain would've been very difficult to build a cold storage, because it is on a mountain.
Tafuna Industrial Area would've also been an alternative as Starkist is already leasing the former BCTC building, but this was "too far".
For your information, the main cold storage for Starkist in Ecuador is in the port of Manta, which is more than 150 miles from their main plant in Guayaquil. Aside from this, there are many fish plants in Ecuador, and they have a socialist government — complaining about it might just give them a one-way ticket out of there.
We were looking for alternatives to solve this problem, and the thought of Tafuna came up, and of course it was rejected by Starkist.
3) After Starkist lost the ASPA cold storage and started crying for a replacement cold storage, an agreement was to try and negotiate (of which I was a part) a situation in which Starkist will build a cold storage with Trimarine in Trimarine's area or leased land.
Once again, here came problems.
Starkist wanted to manage the cold storage solely that would've been constructed in Trimarine's area — they wanted to be in control, and of course Trimarine rejected this.
So, Starkist came back to Governor and asked for another option: they begged to go back to the ASPA location in Satala which by then — it was not possible (and they knew this), because the location had then already been committed to the permanent ASPA plant after the '09 tsunami destruction.
4) In the meantime, ASG had received its shipyard facilities back. We brought the option of the shipyard as an alternative to Starkist's General Manager Brett Butler. He saw the area, and he thought that it was a great idea. In fact, Starkist engineers visited this site several times for their review/ studies, and we went as far as creating a draft lease agreement. This lease agreement was supposed to be signed during the monumental visit of the Chairman of the Board and Starkist Board of Directors.
5) When Chairman JC Kim came to visit the shipyard to see the selected site, he did not want to see the end of the shipyard (the site we were looking at). They decided that they wanted the closest land adjacent to the Starkist plant. I was told that the end of the shipyard was "too far" from the Starkist plant.
However, this other area that they wanted happened to be a location where the net yard is located, and the seiner owners objected vehemently to this suggestion, and they started sending letters to Starkist objecting about this option.
Starkist then asked if the shipyard could move our machine shop and our main offices and the slipway with the chain and large winch — all of that to the end of the shipyard.
During this same week, the shipyard was being reviewed by Crandall Engineers, the original builders of the shipyard, and Crandall folks told us that to move all of those buildings and the entire slipway, it would cost at least $10 million dollars, and I relayed this information to the Starkist CEO In Soo Cho.
By the way, Starkist knew that this was going to be an impossible feat as it would take at least 3 years to complete, a major investment and the boats would not have a dry dock or slipway for 3 years.
6) The allegations for not wanting the back of the shipyard was because it was too costly to put the base or foundation to build a cold storage on. However, Governor Togiola Tulafono offered to seek funding to build this foundation, and all they would need to do is to build the cold storage.
The Governor did identify funding, and he offered this to Starkist's GM and Pat Moody, and I reminded Butler of this fact to several times. The response was that the Chairman and the CEO didn't like the place (shipyard). They said that it was "too far" from the plant.
By the way, this particular area is directly across the main road from their previous cold storage on ASPA land, so it is actually closer than their previous location, as it is on the same side of the road as the Starkist plant.
7) Starkist officials visited Governor again to ask him for another option to build their cold storage. The Governor then sent them to look at the port areas. First they wanted the main building of the port — where customs, port administration are housed.
Suddenly, they heard that there was $7 million available from the US Department of Interior to rebuild the area adjacent to the building where the tug boats are.
It took the port administration 7 years to put together this funding by accumulating different small grants every year to be able to repair all of the sinking land and the sinking port where the tug boats operate. Finally, they got the money for it.
But, now Starkist wants to utilize that land and those funds to put a cold storage up.
We still don't know if the US Department of Interior is going to allow those funds to build something to set a cold storage facility when all of the documents, proposals and studies were created for the operations of the port — boat division — and nothing to do with a cold storage.
All of this was explained to Starkist of course. Furthermore, all of this was discussed with Butler, and he was informed that many oppose this idea of building a cold storage on the main dock, including chiefs from Fagatogo, Utulei and Pago Pago, as well as Chamber of Commerce members and others. Butler was told that the opposition is similar to the one that was against the proposal to build a McDonald's on Utulei Beach. I told him that I understand that this would not happen; and Butler was also told the same when he met with the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
It is obvious that the people will not let this happen.
Why does Starkist insist, when they have another alternative of where to go?
When Chairman JC Kim was here, he kept restating how much he loves American Samoa, then my question is why with all of those feelings that he has for American Samoa, would he want to make Utulei, Fagatogo and Pago Pago fish-smelling places like Satala and Atuu and make the residents and businesses in these villages exposed to the issues that this cold storage, including fish smells, odors from dripping liquids from the trucks transporting fish back and forth, traffic jams, additional wear on the road from constant transfers of fish. Is this love? It looks more like greediness just to get to the $7 million.
For me, I don't mind that smell, because I am used to it, and I am in the fishing industry. But the fact is, many people including the cruise ship tourists wouldn't like that smell.
If people investigate, they are going to find out that Mayaguez, Puerto Rico always wanted to have the cruise boats visiting their ports, and the cruise boats always said NO to going there, because the waters were contaminated with fish scraps; and fish smells around, etc.
Starkist knows this, as they were in Puerto Rico. If the Chairman cares so much for American Samoa, then why does he want so much to do this to Pago Pago and these areas when they have another option for a site?
This is really selfish and greediness. Starkist still has the alternative of the shipyard.
The question is, does Starkist really want to build a cold storage, or do they prefer NOT to build it so that there is always the excuse to cry and try to get more things out of the people of American Samoa?
Starkist has many benefits from American Samoa already including tax-free, duty-free, etc. Do they want to continue crying to continue bleeding the people here dry?
Enough is enough.
Either Starkist builds on the industrial side of the bay — or at the shipyard facilities or else stop crying about it.
I doubt that the American Samoa people and the US Department of Interior will allow themselves to convert Fagatogo, Utulei and Pago Pago to a fish-smelling capital of the world.
Let's show the people's power!!!!!