Phocea mega-yacht saga continues; vessel’s registration said to be ‘fuzzy’Posted: July 25, 2012
The news which was paramount Monday night and all day yesterday had dropped from this morning’s Radio Vanuatu bulletin. This should just be taken to mean the Police have not reported any new developments rather than the story dying. It remains very much alive. To recap…
The four-master yacht Phocea, now moored off Fung Kuei, has brought a story of illegal arms, money for laundering, Vanuatu ministerial misconduct and the re-emergence of the red passports and instant citizenships which brought down the Citizenship Commission a few months ago.
The Vanuatu Police Force suspects the Phocea brought high powered firearms and illegally held money into the country and broke Vanuatu’s immigration laws. The Vanuatu Police were involved in a joint operation with Customs, Immigration and Quarantine and arrested the captain on Saturday. On Sunday their search warrant enabled the taking of certain documents which relate to bilateral arrangements and official papers with, allegedly, forged signatures. There are said to be 16 crew (including the captain), a Tongan and a Samoan having been involved in the Vanuatu citizenship issue adjudicated on 12 March and on bail conditions. They are being held by the police.
The vessel came from Italy by way of Panama and Tonga and was in Port Vila on 14 July. Its next destination was supposed to be PNG. Police report the boat registered in Vanuatu in 2005 as a diplomatic vessel belonging to Anh Quan Saken who just became a Vanuatu citizen in March this year. Daily Post says this registration was carried out by the VMA in 2005. Records of the registration are in various ways “fuzzy”.
When the Phocea reached Port Vila, some ‘big men’ from government were taken on board before the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Departments undertook their clearance operations. The vessel was also reportedly involved in the theft of firearms earlier this year — arms which were taken to Vietnam. The Phocea remains in the hands of the Police and they are continuing their investigations.
Unconfirmed news also has searches taking place at the houses of two Ministers of state and a political appointee, in relation to the Phocea story.
MPs will each receive a sum of Vt 4 million as their severance when Parliament is dissolved on September 2. The total payout will be Vt 208 million, Daily Post reveals.
Daily Post also has an interview with Barak Sope following his agreement to join Vanuatu to the Russian satellite system for telecommunications development. He sees no disadvantage for TVL or Digicel. Sope says the Regulator is supportive of the project which would seem to be a personal one of Sope himself, lacking any delegated authority from the state. His recent trip away also saw him soliciting Asian money for the Ifira fuel depot above the main wharf.
VBTC Radio News began the day today with the secretary general of the New Caledonian customary senate, Chief Mahe, saying the Kanaky chiefs must debate the issue of land ownership in the French territory before the Nouméa accords reach their final stage in 2014. Mahe has been on a two-week visit to Tanna and Efate. He has discussed land issues with custom authorities on these islands and in the capital and was present for an island court case on Tanna. How the land lease system has been used for land sales in Vanuatu was also discussed here.
PM Sato Kilman led a delegation to New Caledonia last week to discuss bilateral cooperation between the two countries as it has taken place since 2006. Training, education, culture and police services were under discussion. A commission has been set up to consider requests under the present agreement. 23 out of 28 requests will be met, Radio News reports, valued at Vt 63 million.
Reef Island has newly declared custom owners. The previous arrangement under which a foreigner claimed ownership was not made with the custom owners’ consent.
Celebrations to mark National Children’s Day were held in different locations yesterday. The Independence celebrations were opened at the same time.