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Task Force leaves to inspect gov’s choices for vessel

The ASG task force team left last night for the U.S. mainland to inspect the vessels that Gov. Togiola Tulafono has picked as possible replacements to operate passenger and cargo service between the Manu’a islands.

“We are not going there to buy a vessel, as some people appear to be thinking, but we will be inspecting the six to seven vessels already picked by the governor,” Capt. Wallace Thompson, a member of the task force, said yesterday morning in a telephone interview.

Thompson, whose company has a pending lawsuit against ASG for the termination of his contract last year with Port Administration, explained that it was several weeks ago that he was approached by Department of Public Works director Taeaotui Punaofo Tilei about being part of the task force.

“The director stated that the governor wanted to know if I was interested in going to Louisiana to look at boats the governor was interested in for the Manu’a islands,” said Thompson. “I reminded the director that I have a lawsuit pending against the government, but I also welcomed the opportunity to be part of the task force and assist the governor’s request.”

Thompson went on to say that there appears to be a misunderstanding in the community that the task force — which includes Port Administration deputy director Chris King, an official with DPW and Thompson’s chief engineer — were heading to Louisiana to purchase the boat. He called this “untrue.”

“What we are going to do in Louisiana is look at the boats selected or picked by the governor. Thereafter a recommendation will be submitted to the governor, who makes the final decision when it comes to a purchase,” said Thompson, who pointed out that he plans to make contact with the U.S. Coast Guard in that area to also check the boats being inspected by the task force. 

Additionally, we’ll request of the owners “to look at all of the boats documentation and all that information, including information from the Coast Guard, which will be presented to the governor,” said Thompson, who added that a marine surveyor will be hired later to conduct a full inspection of the final boat selected by the governor.

And despite his pending lawsuit, Thompson says that he will continue to serve the people and the government of American Samoa when he is called upon for assistance. “I have been in this profession for more than two decades and it’s my duty to utilize my professional expertise when asked for assistance,” he said.

Thompson also told Samoa News that he “still strongly advocates” for the government to buy a new boat when one is needed but two major set backs are the lack of funding for a new boat purchase and the need for the government to have sufficient resources to maintain such a vessel.

“At the same time, there is a need for American Samoa to set up a maritime school at the American Samoa Community College for this type of industry and I can teach such a class,” he said.

Thompson said the biggest problem faced by ASG when it comes to its fleet, is not having funds to maintain them. He said this issue has to be addressed by ASG in order to move forward.

This week, governor-elect Lolo Matalasi Moliga wrote to the governor asking him to hold back on the purchase of any vessel for the Manu’a island group and to allow his incoming administration to implement its plans to address the needs of Manu’a and not be forced to live by the conditions that Togiola will establish with the purchase of the vessel.

Lolo says he prefers to design a new vessel for Manu’a from scratch incorporating all of the features that would address the cargo, fuel and passenger needs. (See yesterday’s edition for full details.)