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ASG’s plans to address essential needs for Manu’a face scrutiny

MV Talitiga

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the latest private sector commercial venture of a landing craft unit (LCU) purported to service Manu’a, Aunu’u and Tutuila, the question of what exactly the American Samoa government’s plans are to address the critical lifeline for the territory's remote islands, ensuring essential services and goods reach even the most isolated communities, is highlighted.

This is largely due to what seems to be several plans the government has said it has in play or will have in play — and yet Gov. Lemanu P.S. Mauga said during his remarks at the new LCU’s christening ceremony, a week ago, that ventures such as these by the private sector are exactly what is needed to meet these types of needs in the community — private vs. government/ ASG.

Samoa News should point out that this also brings to mind, the criticism the residents of Manu’a have expressed about the cost they are charged to use either forms of transportation, ocean and air, for cargo or passenger. And this is with ASG owning the ocean transport.


Currently, to address the critical lifeline for the territory's remote islands needs, the ASG through the Department of Port Administration (DPA) had announced that it planned to purchase a landing craft unit (LCU) and two tugboats under the New Inter-Island Transportation Economic Program (NITEP).

In a detailed report on the performance of the American Samoa 2023 Recovery Plan, it was revealed that a substantial portion of the allocated funds for the NITEP had been spent. Out of the $5,Million in ARPA funds allocated to DPA for this program, $3,910,852.90 had been utilized. Yet, the equipment, aimed at bolstering the territory's maritime capabilities, remain pending delivery, although no update has been forthcoming.

The planned acquisitions are aimed to address urgent transportation needs in American Samoa, particularly in Manu’a, home to approximately 1,400 residents.

Due to limited healthcare infrastructure, residents must travel 70 miles to Tutuila for medical care. Reliable transportation is crucial for healthcare access, especially considering the prevalence of non-communicable diseases and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel restrictions during the pandemic worsened service disruptions to the Manu’a islands, highlighting the need for dependable transportation links.

At present, the American Samoa Government (ASG) possesses just one vessel, the MV Manuatele, utilized for inter-island operations. However, the sole reliance on this single vessel renders transportation of both passengers and cargo to the islands precarious, particularly during periods of maintenance or repairs. Acquiring a LCU would provide a crucial alternative, ensuring consistent and dependable transportation between the islands.

With the purchase of an LCU by local businessman Papali’i Laulii Alofa and his company Paramount Builders, the acquisition of a new government-owned LCU appears to be in question.

The privately owned LCU, named the MV Talitiga, which arrived from Indonesia, is being touted as reducing reliance on Samoa for heavy equipment mobilization in Manu’a infrastructure projects. Its ability to carry passengers has not been mentioned.

It should be noted that despite being privately owned, the MV Talitiga displays the seal of the American Samoa Government. There has been no indication by the Administration or Papali’i as to why the government seal is displayed on the LCU, and if its temporary.

Of note, during his remarks at the christening, Governor Lemanu further praised the investment, emphasizing the vessel's potential as a government asset. The Governor also noted the vessel's efficient fuel usage during its journey from Indonesia, highlighting the prospect of renewed relations with Indonesia. No information regarding the vessel's cost was provided, by either the governor or Papali’i.

In particular, this brings to mind the ASG purchase of the MV Pago Pago from Lauli’i in 2020. As reported in local media, part of the purchase price was paid with CARES Act, and the Inspector General’s Office of the US Treasury rejected and required ASG to reimburse the federal funds, which they did. It was part of the $36 million the Lemanu Administration used without Fono approval, but was later approved after-the-fact in a supplemental bill.

There has been no update as to where the MV Pago Pago and its barge are and if they are still seaworthy. The vessel is not certified for passenger transport, the MV Manu’atele is.

On another front, the American Samoa Petroleum Cooperative (ASPC) has presented recommendations to enhance the territory's maritime capabilities.

In a letter addressed to the Governor, the ASPC advocates for the ASG shipyard to assume control of government tugboats, citing concerns over the DPA's expertise in vessel maintenance and funding shortages for upkeep.

Highlighting instances of significant delays for oil tankers entering the port due to tugboat shortages, the ASPC underscores the critical need for well - maintained vessels with sufficient horsepower to meet industry standards.

The recommendation proposes purchasing pre-owned tugboats from California, funded jointly by the shipyard and ASPC, with direct billing to port users to ensure dedicated funding for maintenance and operation.

Moreover, the ASPC recommends the ASG shipyard take over the operation of government tugboats currently managed by the DPA. In a letter to the Governor dated March 14, the ASPC highlights the DPA's lack of expertise in maintaining boats and insufficient funding for maintenance, resulting in the neglect of tugboats. The ASPC notes instances of significant delays for oil tankers entering the port due to the shortage of tugboats, costing up to $35,000 per day.

The ASPC emphasizes the need for tugboats with 3,000 to 5,000 horsepower to handle large vessels entering the port, which the current fleet lacks. They propose that the shipyard takes over tugboat operations and bills users directly to ensure funds are allocated specifically for maintenance and operation, rather than going into the General Fund.

It suggests purchasing well-maintained tugboats from California using shipyard and ASPC funds.

However, this plan requires the Governor's endorsement to allow port users to be billed directly and allocate funds towards tugboat operations. The letter is signed by several industry representatives.

In the end, ASG-DPA will need to ascertain if these developments complement or contradict their efforts and justify the effectiveness of spending to the ARPA Office.


There is some question exactly how much was paid for the MV Pago Pago — figures of $1.5 million, $2.5 million and $3.5 million have all been used in different reports.

The first, the $1.5 million was used during the supplemental budget hearings of the $36 million that was eventually passed after much postering by the Senate. and it is also the amount stated in the OIG report of the purchase.

The report further stated that “the COVID-19 CRC reviewed the MV Pago Pago purchase on December 24, 2020, and identified the purchase as a questioned cost in its documentation.

“Specifically, the COVID-19 CRC concluded that there was no justification for the purchase, no assessment of the MV Pago Pago’s current value, and the purchase was not COVID-19 related.

“Additionally, the COVID-19 CRC recommended that other options be considered, such as leasing the vessel to transport needed medical supplies to American Samoa.”

In addition, the report stated that “Between April and May 2020 (prior to the first payment for the MV Pago Pago on September 17, 2020), ASG leased the MV Pago Pago from the seller using non- CRF proceeds while the MV Manu’atele vessel (used for passenger, supplies, and goods transport) was being repaired.

“At the time of the MV Pago Pago purchase, the MV Manu’atele vessel was still being repaired.

“However, ASG also owned other marine vessels, to include the MV Sili, Segaula, and the Uila Ole Sami utility vessel, that were used as alternative vessels for travel and as public transportation.

“Furthermore, the seller’s proposal to the American Samoa Department of Public Safety for Maritime Patrol (dated June 25, 2020) cited uses of the MV Pago Pago that were non-COVID-19 related activities to include: (1) maritime search and rescue; (2) marine patrol and marine sanctuary; (3) illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing monitoring; and (4) drug surveillance.”