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Vessels arriving at Pago Pago must first be cleared by Dept. of Health

Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele
DoH clears vessels for entry — not Port, says Taimalelagi

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Port Administration has in place a new policy where all vessels entering the Port of Pago Pago must wait just outside of the harbor at the red buoy to be cleared first by a Health Department physician before being allowed to enter the harbor.

This is according to Port Administration director Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Poumele during Sunday’s government COVID-19 task force meeting, where Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga spoke at length about the need to follow policy already in place pertaining to all vessels entering Pago Pago during the coronavirus emergency declaration.

Lolo’s reaction came during the DoH presentation, which included the tally of vessels that entered Pago Pago last week and it includes the purse seiner vessel Cape Ferret, whose last port of call was in Mexico — which has a high number of COVID-19 cases — and had been at sea for 40-days before arriving here.

In previous task force meetings, DoH officials have stated repeatedly that crewmembers of all vessel are now allowed to disembark and are closely monitored by DoH. However, information received by Samoa News on Monday indicates that the Cape Ferret arrived last Friday and the crew had disembarked the vessel upon docking at the harbor and the crew was observed walking around the dock without being cleared by DoH — which later tested the crew and all were found negative for the coronavirus.

At this past Sunday’s task force meeting, Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua said there was an incident pertaining to Cape Ferret and explained DoH’s policy in monitoring purse seiners and local longliners during the virus declaration.

However, Gov. Lolo said a lot of time is spent discussing this issue when the problem is that “we are not doing what we’re supposed to do” dealing with incoming vessels. He blamed DoH for not following established policy.

Based on information he received, the governor said the reason why the crew disembarked was that instructions were not clearly stated by DoH. And that a DoH physician was not present at the time the vessel arrived.

He said there are enough DoH physicians to carry out this responsibility and if necessary make sure two physicians are available.

Lolo pointed to current policy, which requires all incoming vessels to give 72-hour advance notice before entering. Additionally, there are documents required to be provided prior to entry. (Samoa News notes that these specific restrictions are also listed in the 4th and 5th amended COVID-19 emergency declarations.)

“We know the policy works, so don’t blame the vessel,” Lolo said, noting that under local policy, vessels cannot enter the port, without required advance notice. And no crew should disembark unless the DoH is there to conduct its medical assessment and the clearance is issued.

He advised that Port Administration work together with DoH to ensure that this type of problem doesn’t happen again.

He also said that officials from DoH, Immigration and Customs should all be at the dock to clear any incoming vessel, as failure to do so in a timely manner will cause delay and that affects local businesses.

Lolo reiterated that too much time is spent on discussing this issue when the right policies are in place but aren’t being followed. “Refocus attention on the work that needs to be done and follow our policy,” he added.

To ensure that there’s no confusion in the future, Taimalelagi explained that the first person who boards an incoming vessel is a DoH physician, and not a representative from Port Administration, who cannot allow a vessel to enter, without first getting clearance from a DoH physician.

She said a new protocol has been in place for about two-weeks now and an advisory has been sent out, that all incoming vessels are required to wait at the red buoy — just outside of the harbor — for a DoH physician to board that incoming vessel.

Once the the DoH physicians gives the clearance, that vessel will then enter the port, she said, adding that Port Administration has been getting calls about this matter, and reiterated that DoH gives the clearance “not Port”.