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Kite Runner saga just won’t quit

Faualo Harry Schuster

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In the latest development in the Kite Runner “pleasure boat” saga, the Samoa Minister of Police, Prisons and Corrections Services has denied that his office was contacted by Cabinet colleagues to have a seized American Samoa-registered vessel released.

Approached for a comment on Friday night, in response to comments from a senior police officer that the Ministry was contacted following the boat's seizing, Faualo Harry Schuster told Samoa Observer that Samoa's Police had "done their job". 

When asked to verify who gave instructions for the Kite Runner to be released after it was seized in Savai'i, Faualo said he did not know. 

"I don't know," he said. "We [police] did our part by seizing the boat. Maybe check with Customs [Ministry of Customs and Revenue]. Maybe if we had found drugs on the boat we wouldn't have released the boat."

The Observer approached the Minister for comment after a senior police officer said the Ministry received calls from the offices of three Cabinet Ministers who asked for the boat to be released so it can return to American Samoa. 

The Marine Patrol Division of the Department of Search and Rescue is investigating how the Kite Runner was able to travel to Samoa without proper documentation to enter Samoa’s borders.

This was confirmed by the Chief of Marine Patrol Division, Ina Ulberg.

“We are gathering statements from the three crew members that were on board the Kite Runner in question,” Ulberg told American Samoa government- owned KVZK-TV.

"We will be also seeking a report from Samoa’s Ministry of Police and Prisons from their investigation.”

Earlier, Samoa’s Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said from preliminary reports the Kite Runner entered Samoa illegally, breaching their country's Customs laws.

“And the boat should have been seized and the crew arrested for unlawful entrance,” she said.

"They did not have the proper clearance to enter our borders."

Fiame made the comments during an earlier press conference with the media in Samoa.

According to the Prime Minister, their government officials were scrambling to get all the necessary clearances for the boat, which should have never happened in the first place.

The Prime Minister says, preliminary reports indicate the boat docked at Matautu then proceeded to Mulifanua before heading to Savai’i when the police intervened and seized the boat and escorted it back to Matautu.

Adding the involvement of government officials to get the last-minute required paperwork for a boat that entered illegally “is not a good look for the government” citing there is a failure in border security on their part.

Samoa Police Commissioner Auapa’au Logoitino Filipo has now issued a stern warning against boats from American Samoa heading to Samoa, about the need to have customs clearance on hand, prior to entering its borders.

He said their laws must be upheld regardless and the incident this past weekend is a classic example.

“Foreigners on Samoan waters must abide by our laws; otherwise, there will be consequences and it does not matter who owns the vessel.”

As reported earlier, Samoa minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure (MWTI) Olo Afoa Vaai said the boat in question, Kite Runner is registered in American Samoa as "a pleasure boat" and therefore there was no need for it to be inspected.

When asked to explain the process of getting clearance or permission for vessels to enter Samoa, Olo said, “Generally, the MWTI only needs to be notified of any incoming vessel beforehand. 

“MWTI does not issue clearance or permits for vessels to be able to dock in Samoa. However, following relevant inspections and checks by all relevant authorities at the port for incoming vessels, it is then the MWTI's respons

The vessel, Kite Runner, is owned by Paramount Builders.

KHJ News was told by Samoa port authorities that the reason why the Kite Runner was held up at the Apia wharf is because it did not have a clearance from its last port, Pago Pago.

This clearance, which is officially signed by both Port and Customs, was applied for and given after the boat arrived in Apia, according to sources who asked not to be identified as they are now authorized to speak to the media.