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Strange incident reported from Manu’a still under investigation

The reported Manu’a incident from last weekend, that lit up Facebook posts, and caused concern in the territory’s communities, continues to raise questions, despite a press conference held by the Department of Homeland Security on the incident, today, at the DHS conference room.

Samoa News reported on Monday, Apr. 24 about the incident, saying that according to FB posts, the incident involved a “large ship anchored off the coast of Ta’u and small vessels coming ashore via Nuu gaogao.” One of the posts said, “All village men went to see who it is and women and children scrambling to safety. Shots fired rn.” The post continues, “I just confirmed with homeland sec. n help is on the way from Tutuila. Coast Guard dispatched n on da way.” The post goes on to say, “PLEASE PRAY FOR OUR FAMILIES. Tutuila stay alert…”

As a result of such posts and phone calls from Manu’a, the DHS released a special bulletin last Saturday morning, at 5a.m., Apr. 22 — in both English and Samoan — advising the public “not to be alarmed, the alleged incident or unconfirmed sighting has been reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Office and the Department of Public Safety. There were no gun shots fired, no persons injured, and conditions are safe in Ta’u, Manu’a.” It said DHS would continue to monitor the situation.

The director of DHS Samana Semo Ve'ave'a said during yesterday’s (Friday.Aril 28) media conference that they are still unable to confirm exactly what happened Friday a week ago in Manu’a, because they have only phone calls from Manu’a of the reported incident, some conflicting information, and no ‘photos’ or ‘credible’ evidence on hand.

He said, the US Coast Guard confirmed today that there were four fishing vessels in the area at the time of the reported incident — 3 Chinese and one Samoan (the Tui Samoa). Ve'ave'a said the vessels were on their way to American Samoa at the time of the incident, and were about 200mi off shore in Manu’a, coming from the North. He said the USCG confirmed that the vessels were not ‘large’ vessels, meaning not big enough to launch any other craft other than life rafts.

Further, he said, the vessels arrived in Pago Pago Port this week — he was unable to give the specific arrival date, nor say if they were still in Port. Ve’ave’a said they identified themselves as “fishing” vessels; and credible sources are needed to ‘board’ the vessels to search.

Ve’ave’a said the next step in the investigation of the reported incident is to go to Manu’a — the DHS, USCG and the Department of Public Safety — and ask residents directly about the incident.

He said right now, however, the alleged incident has highlighted the lack of resources to quickly respond to possible threats such as was reported from Ta’u. The DHS director said, even the USCG had to go to Hawai’I to get the information needed — re satellite imaging and vessel locators/ trackers — and that was finally received today. In the meantime, the DHS does not have the equipment on island to launch such an investigation — vessel, aircraft, etc. — and neither does the DPS or the USCG.

Of note, Ve’ave’a said, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga was aware of the reported incident, as it was happening, and monitored with the DHS the issue of the alleged sightings in Ta’u, Manu’a at the time it purportedly was happening — Friday evening- Saturday early morning.

The DHS director said it was the governor who advised that a public bulletin be issued early Saturday morning to allay the fears of the public concerning the reported Manu’a incident.