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Strict monitoring of territorial waters due to measles outbreak in effect

Dept. of Port Administration sign
Part of emergency declaration

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Port Administration is taking the lead, working with three other ASG departments, in patrolling the 50-mile zonewithin territorial waters, to prevent unauthorized vessels from entering the territory during the emergency declaration due to the measles outbreak.

“All waters subject to the control of the American Samoa Government are hereby closed to all private vessels, including fishing vessels, unless the vessel obtains prior approval from the American Samoa Government to navigate our waters,” according to provisions of the governor’s Dec. 8th “Continued Public Health Emergency Declaration.”

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga first mentioned the strict monitoring of territorial waters during a special emergency cabinet meeting last Saturday, saying the monitoring should cover the territory’s 50-mile zone.

The governor reiterated this message at another emergency cabinet meeting Sunday, saying that the US economic exclusive zone in territorial waters is larger, but for marine patrol to focus on the 50-miles — which is also waters reserved for local ‘alia, also known under federal regulations as the Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA).

Lolo’s comments were made after Port Administration gave its presentation on enforcement entry into the territory’s ports of entry during the measles outbreak.

Port Administration deputy director Chris King said during the presentation that both the airport and seaport are open. He said efforts by Port Administration along with DPS, Homeland Security, and DMWR, as well as other ASG agencies “have been to identify unannounced vessels that may be coming into the territory.”

He said Port’s enforcement started last Thursday evening using the smaller ASG vessel MV Segaula to patrol territorial waters, from 6p.m. to 6a.m. 

“Our patrol covers the entire island, with specific focus on our border between American Samoa and Samoa — the area extending 50-mile [from shore]. We have taken care of our area within our territory to identify those unannounced vessels,” he explained.

Under a newly agreed marine patrol, he said Port Administration is responsible for patrol of the westside of Tutuila with the use of the Segaula and the MV Manu’atele, which was put to use starting last Sunday. Port is also overseeing patrol of the Manu’a islands, using the other smaller ASG vessel Uila-ole-Sami, with a Port crew stationed in Manu’a to be utilized.

For the Eastside of Tutuila, Port has requested the DPS Marine Patrol unit, and DMWR to oversee this jurisdiction. He said the departments involved are working out a schedule “on how best to cover the areas and times - which is 12 hours out at sea - 6p.m to 6a.m.

“That’s a long time to be out in the ocean,” he said, adding that issues take into consideration are best locations for patrol, and “crew rest.” He said patrol is carried out every night. “We also wanted to set up random patrols, at different times. People try to sneak in, when they know the times of the set patrols,” he said, noting that “all patrols are coordinated through the Harbor Master’s Office at Port, so we’ll know who’s going out and when they’re coming back.”

And contact made in the open ocean is communicated back to shore to ASDHS’ Emergency Operation Center.  For example, “if we do find a vessel, they’re then escorted back to Port; Health Department takes over from there,” he said.

Port director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele noted that the governor had requested the Airport division to get additional staff to maintain the terminal building and assist Health officials,  stationed at the airport.

“Right now we are using some of our maintenance [personnel]. Its something that’s ongoing until we hear differently from Health Department,” she added.

Lolo requested that Taimalelagi and King “work closely with US Coast Guard” and “get them involved but the call - both the airport and our seaport - is directly on you. So you have the authority to control our borders with the team from DPS and Homeland Security.”

“Alert the Coast Guard, when an unannounced vessel is identified in our 50 mile zone,” he said.

For the airport, Lolo told Taimalelagi, “any airline that does not cooperate and work together with you, just take the lead from the director of health, and you make the call, either close the airline, or take every necessary measure to make sure they work with us.”

Samoa News points out that all airlines serving the territory have been working closely with local officials, since the governor signed the first public health declaration on Nov. 13th, putting in place several travel restrictions on the inter-Samoa and Tonga flights.