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StarKist Samoa and support businesses to be allowed to operate

StarKist Samoa plant

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has issued an exemption for StarKist Samoa — the largest local private employer with about 2,000 workers — and cadres of businesses from a provision of his COVID-19 emergency declaration and he has promised both federal and local support to all affected businesses impacted with restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Under the governor’s extended emergency declaration to combat the coronavirus, American Samoa is now under Code-Blue, which requires among other things that businesses in American Samoa operate from 6a.m to 6p.m.

Because StarKist Samoa operations include evening shifts and sometimes weekend shifts— especially when there is supply demand for canned tuna, the cannery requested an exemption from this provision of the declaration. StarKist also provided to the governor, its established Advisory and Guidance, which supports the territory-wide campaign to preempt, at any costs, the entry and spread of the virus into the territory.

“Your commitment to practice maximum vigilance and diligence in monitoring, screening, mitigation and containment of your workers exhibiting coronavirus related systems is reassuring and engenders comfort given the mass congregation of workers, which could readily inflame the spread of coronavirus,” Lolo wrote in a Mar. 20th letter to StarKist Samoa general manager Jason Kim, exempting the cannery from the provision of the declaration.

Among the health measures implemented at the cannery even before the declaration was issued Mar. 18th is health screenings at the main gate. It requires team members with heath symptoms to be home quarantined or go to hospital for further testing.

A meeting was held last Friday morning between the governor — who participated by teleconferencing call — and other ASG officials with StarKist Samoa management team to discuss the exemption request.

In his exemption letter, Lolo notes that US President Donald Trump’s call for all manufacturing and processing facilities to speed production of healthcare and food supplies is heeded, “thus emboldening my decision to exempt StarKist and the supporting cadre of businesses to ensure that American Samoa does its part to answer the national call to ally mounting fears of medical and food scarcity by boosting production levels.”

While hopeful that escalating incidences of coronavirus infection will peak soon, Lolo notes that health experts seem to think that this is not going to happen soon which poses danger on production and processing capacity if workers are infected.

“This scenario corresponds to potential food shortage and American Samoa will be devastated given our position on the United States hierarchy StarKist can become our source of food supply if and when this happens,” he said.

He also said the territory’s economy is pillared on StarKist and ASG and if one faces financial hardship the entire economic system will collapse because all, if not most of the secondary and tertiary businesses, depend on StarKist.

Additionally, the territory’s “purchasing power capacity is significantly StarKist based,” and “StarKist can trigger and unleash a lethal economic financial tsunami with far worst consequences than the coronavirus.”

Accordingly the governor granted the exemption request, predicted on StarKist’s commitment that “you will take responsibility in making sure that your employees will be protected from being infected” as outlined in the company’s Advisory and Guidance Plan.

Furthermore, the company “will implement mitigation actions leading to the plant closure in the event the spread of the coronavirus accelerates and the locus of infection is within StarKist’s workforce.”

Given that StarKist depends on local businesses for their operation, the governor granted the same exemption to these businesses, with the proviso that they too will be subject to follow the dictates of emergency declaration aimed to protect employees and residents alike.

Companies exempted are Peter Reid Stevedoring; Harbor Maritime; Le Afi Energy — butane; Talofa Systems can plant; Cargo vessel - SWIRE, Hamburg Sud, etc; fishing vessels — various longliners and purse seiners; contract fish unloaders — Pacific Stevedoring, Feliciano, Blue Angel; and Fuel suppliers — Pacific Energy/ Clipper.

“These businesses are encouraged to practice social distancing protocols where it is practical and possible,” the governor said, and directed six government agencies to render required and needed services to StarKist’s operation and make sure such services are readily available during the duration of the declaration.

“I trust that you will do everything that you possibly can to protect, not just your workers, but all the people of American Samoa who might [get] the virus from one of your employees,” the governor wrote to Kim.

During a tape-recorded address aired on KVZK-TV on Sunday night regarding COVID-19 and ASG implemented measures, including certain hours of business operations, the governor said he is “well aware that this endeavor will significantly affect our businesses, which will in turn, destroy out economy.”

“I pledge to all the business owners of American Samoa that the government will work closely with you to make sure that you have access to all the federal programs which are now available at this time,” he said. “And the local government will do what ever it can [to] help ease the financial pain which will be felt.”

One of the federal programs now available is low-interest loans for small businesses from the US Small Business Administration. (See yesterday’s edition for details.)