New law gives ASG authority to remove abandoned vessels
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has signed into law legislation that gives the government authority to remove any abandoned vessel within its waters, especially Pago Pago Harbor; although the governor has “reservations” pertaining to some provisions of the new statute.
The bill, signed by the governor on Oct. 11, creates a new chapter called the Abandoned and Derelict Vessels Act, under Title 20 of the American Samoa Code Annotated. It becomes effective at the end of the year.
In signing the bill into law, the governor informed the Fono that this much needed legislation will allow the government through the departments of Port Administration and Public Safety “to more effectively cope with a problem of long-standing concern to the community and in particular to port users, that of abandoned and derelict vessels littering our harbor.”
Lolo recalled the impact of Hurricane Val in 1991, including a raft of nine abandoned long-line fishing vessels that broke loose and “wreaked devastation in our harbor before running aground on our reefs.”
“Today we are again faced with derelict vessels in our harbors, there being at least three in danger of sinking at their moors and creating a potential for unknown environmental damage,” said Lolo in a letter to Fono leaders.
Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga told a House committee hearing last month that there are currently six vessels considered abandoned in Pago Bay which they tried to remove, but were informed by the Attorney General’s Office that they could not do so, as there are pending lawsuits regarding some of them.
She said the department’s previous director also tried to serve notice on the abandoned vessels, but the government could not locate the owners. The proposed law will make it easy for ASG to remove abandoned vessels, Matagi-Tofiga noted.
The bill, sponsored by Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, was introduced earlier this year.
Although he signed the bill into law, the governor informed the Fono that the administration “has reservations about some aspect of the legislation.”
For example, he said the administration “would like to see more specificity” around the designated authorities and their duties; a limitation of government liability on vessel removal; and the requirement that any removal of vessels be in compliance with standards set by the federal and local environmental protection agencies.
“Nonetheless, this legislation...is an important step forward in being able to protect our harbors,” he said, adding that the Attorney General’s Office will be directed to work with the Port Administration director to determine if technical amendments may be necessary, or if the matters raised can be addressed by the rule making process.
A provision of the bill calls for Port Administration to adopt regulations to carry out provisions of this new chapter of the law.
It also states that a public auction is not required when the appraised value of an abandoned vessel is less than $1,000.
See Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 issue for details of the bill.
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