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Governor pleased with Tri-Marine progress

Gov. Togiola Tulafono is very pleased and impressed with the latest development made by Tri Marine International at its Atu’u operations, where the company is setting up a tuna processing plant as well as a cold storage facility — and expanding its ability to handle its fresh and fresh frozen fish for export to off-island markets.

Togiola’s comments came after a tour of the facility last Thursday afternoon, which included Tri Marine’s top official Joe Hamby, who is based in Singapore and in charge of the company’s global tuna business.

Also present during the tour was Tri Marine official Dan Sullivan, who is based in the company’s headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., and is in charge of production plants. Sullivan is currently overseeing construction of Tri Marine’s local operations, Samoa Tuna Processors Inc.

Ian Boatwood, General Manager of Samoa Tuna Processors was also present.

Also on hand during the tour, which included Samoa News — invited by Hamby — was Tri Marine official Antonio Arsini, who is in charge of the company’s fresh and frozen business, including tuna not for canning, but going to other markets, such as sashimi markets.

Arsini explained that he is looking at local and regional fishing operations to support the company’s fresh fish for export, with priority to local fishermen.

“We will be looking at sourcing the fish from the local longliners first, if we manage to convince them how good the prospect is for them,” he told Samoa News. “We will have a nice set up for them with a freezer storage and we have [an] air freight connection for fish export.”

He also explained the process involved in keeping fish fresh, through the new storage facility that will be undergoing construction soon.

The governor observed the current smaller operation the company has, which is processing and sending ‘fresh’ fish off-island for the sashimi market in California and Japan. One of the most important aspects of this type of processing is the temperature the fish must be stored at, to be considered ‘fresh’ or ‘fresh frozen’. The company currently has freezer containers on hand, handling this smaller operation — including a blast freezer, which keeps the fish at a specific temperature for ‘fresh frozen’ export.

Hamby noted later that the area, which will eventually be developed for the smaller local fishing vessels, such as the alias, to dock and unload, and go directly to processing for the fresh or fresh frozen export market, which depends on the quality of fish, as well as the availability of market.

Sullivan said that construction for the storage facility should commence within the next month while the current work deals with demolishing the previous one, which was owned by COS Samoa Packing. He also said that all of the steel taken down is being recycled by sending it off-island.

Samoa News also observed the old cement from the COS old freezer area being demolished and recycled to be used as part of the base for the new cold storage site.

Tri Marine announced last October that Paramount Builders was awarded the job to demolish the three old cold storage buildings in preparation for the construction of a new 5,000 ton capacity facility with state-of-the-art fish receiving, sizing and storage capability. Additional work is included in this contract to prepare for the rebuilding of the tuna canning and support facilities planned. This demolition project, which also includes the recycling of obsolete equipment, is expected to be completed in about three months’ time.

Samoa News was told by Boatwood that completion date of the cold storage project is around 11 months.

Togiola thanked Tri Marine officials for the tour, adding, “thank you very much for all the progress”. He said he is happy to see that there are local people working on the site.

“I’m impressed at how well the organization of the plan is. Very impressive,” said Togiola, who was accompanied by local businessman and fishing boat owner, Carlos Sanchez, the governor’s representative for fishery issues.

Asked if this was what he envisioned at Tri Marine, the governor told Samoa News that he had a different idea for this facility before Tri Marine became interested.

“Our idea, was basically, to follow the old plan that was there on a smaller scale. But what I’m seeing now is totally different. What was explained to me seemed a lot more efficient use of space and a lot more consistent with... the way it’s being engineered,” the governor said.

According to the governor, what he is getting from Tri Maine “is a long term plan... they are not in for the short term” and he is “very happy” with the plan that transcends what his administration is looking for. 

“I’m even impressed with the size of that cold storage,” he said, adding that he had no idea that there was that much room available on the leased land for the freezer project. “It’s impressive.”

As to the Fono members complaining about not getting an update on the progress of Tri Marine, the governor said the Fono is asking the wrong people, and they should be asking him directly, so lawmakers will get the right answer.

According to Togiola, the company’s other impressive plan is the recycling of materials and steel — which will be sent off island — and this means these items “are not going into our land fill and that’s very helpful from a governmental stand point. That’s a huge help for us. So that’s great planning and great engineering.”

When asked about the StarKist proposed cold storage facility in the town area, Togiola said it’s different than what Tri Marine is building, calling it a “similar concept, but different area.”

“...I still believe that it’s just going to be well protected with the things that we are asking them to do and I just listened to some concepts today, that were new to me that I think we can continue to discuss to avoid the environmental concerns” that have been raised, said Togiola.

The governor maintains the StarKist storage facility is a good idea for the time and depending on how long StarKist will be here, “our lease requires that if they leave at a certain time… the plant [will] belong to us.”

He said the StarKist facility is for “cold storage only” with fish coming straight from the boat into the facility. He said he even denied the company’s request to have sizing done at the storage facility [sizing is part of processing].

Togiola also said that the impact of the extra traffic and load on the road infrastructure from the storage facility, is something that “no one knows” right away.

“We build the roads to last any condition or any load... for 25 years. That’s the life of the roads that we build, no matter what load you put on it, it’s supposed to last 25 years,” he said.

In the meantime, the petition to stop the StarKist cold storage facility from being built on the main Fagatogo dock area (Port Administration) continues to grow, with more signatures collected to be delivered to StarKist General Manager Brett Butler this coming Wednesday, according to sources. The first letter and petition with signatures were delivered not only to StarKist, the governor, the congressman, the DOI representative, but also every faipule and senator at the Fono, last Friday.

Fili Sagapolutele contributed to this story.