Governor says not our fault Lano villagers stranded
Gov. Togiola Tulafono has directed his office to conduct a complete probe into whether Samoa Shipping Service — owned by the Samoa government — and its local agent, Polynesian Shipping, violated any local laws by leaving behind some 40 members of the the Lano village group, who were in the territory for the Flag Day celebration.
Togiola was responding to a caller on his weekend radio program, who pointed to a story in a newspaper in which a Lano chief criticized the local government for the situation they were faced with when they were stuck at the inter island dock, sleeping on concrete benches and floor.
The governor maintained throughout his radio program that it was the fault of the shipping service.
The caller (who didn’t identify the newspaper, but was referring to a story in the Samoa News weekend edition, To’asavili) quoted the Lano chief Malaeulu Amoni, raising the question in Samoan, “Amerika Samoa, Aisea ua e faia fa’apea ai a’u”, (or “American Samoa, why have you treated me this way?”) referring to being left stranded at the dock.
(The Saturday edition of Samoa News also ran the story in English.)
Another village leader quoted in the story said that a member of the Flag Day Committee should have been present at the time of departure to prevent what happened to the group.
The caller told the governor that the Lano criticism has ruined a very beautiful Flag Day celebration.
Togiola apologized for what happened to the group and the lack of a committee representative at the dock. If a representative had been present, the government would have been aware of the situation and taken appropriation action, by taking the group back to their host right away when some members didn’t make the MV Lady Naomi sail, he said.
However, the governor said the problem has nothing to do with the Flag Day committee, nor ASG — and therefore they should not be blamed.
He said the problem falls on the Lady Naomi’s owners, Samoa Shipping.
According to the governor, House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale, who hosted Saleaumua village from Samoa, had requested Samoa Shipping for a delay in returning the village back to Samoa. However, the request was denied, despite members of the village not wanting to travel right away.
He said Lano village on the other hand was ready and wanted to return to Samoa but other passengers — who were not part of the Flag Day celebration from Samoa — ended up being included in the MV Lady Naomi sail last Friday morning, resulting in some 40 Lano villagers being left behind on the dock.
He said Samoa Shipping knew very well the total number of passengers in each group that they brought into the territory and the number of people that needed to be returned to Samoa.
(Samoa News should point out that Lano and Saleaumua villages were brought into the territory on separate sails of the Lady Naomi)
Togiola said the shipping company divided up the Lano village group for last Friday’s sail to Samoa, without advising anyone in advance of what they were doing.
He said the local agents for the vessel then went home early Friday morning, without notifying the Office of Samoan Affairs of this problem the shipping company had created — leaving behind members of the Lano group.
Without informing Samoan Affairs, the government was delayed in getting any information about this situation, Togiola said.
The governor said he was disappointed with statements by the Lano chief, who should understand that their invitation didn’t come easy.
He said it was a very difficult decision to invite this group, and noted that Lano was invited only after a request was made, and not because American Samoa wanted them — Togiola didn’t say where the request originated.
The governor said now the village is blaming American Samoa for the problems — which all stem from Savai’i. He didn’t elaborate further, but said that Lano is fully aware of the problems in Savai’i.
Togiola said American Samoa showed a lot of respect to the Lano village, with the invitation to Flag Day, but the village then turns around and blames and criticizes American Samoa, which is very disrespectful.
He said Lano village should file a complaint with Samoa Shipping, who bumped members of the group, and reiterated that the delay in returning the rest of the group to their local host Friday morning was because no one from the shipping service bothered to contact Samoan Affairs.
According to Togiola, the shipping service should have accommodated all those left behind at local hotels, because they knew all along that not all of the group members were going to be on board for the sail to Samoa.
The governor then said he has directed his staff to review all local laws, to see if any provisions have been violated by Samoa Shipping and Polynesian Shipping for leaving behind members of the Lano group. He said any violation found will be dealt with right away.
Togiola went on to say that the Samoa government gave money to the operator of the Lady Naomi to pay the fares for these individuals, who should not be treated this way by leaving them stranded at the inter island dock — and again said they should have been taken care of by putting them up at the appropriate accommodations.
Towards the end of his radio program, he apologized to radio listeners for any harsh words, but added that his blood pressure hits a boiling point when certain public statements are made, but they are not true at all.
The rest of the Lano village group, hosted by Vui Seigafolava F. Saulo, are scheduled to depart this Thursday.
Samoa News understands some have and will be returning via airplane, with their local families paying for their fares.