Oct 22, 2019 Last Updated 2:59 AM, Oct 16, 2019

By Netani Rika

VILLAGERS on Vanuatu’s outer islands have been warned to expect damaging winds of up to 205kmph as Tropical Cyclone Hola heads south towards New Caledonia.

There are no reports of major damage at this stage.

Philip Meto from the National Disaster Management Office told Radio Australia they had received reports that some buildings had been damaged and trees brought down.

The Category Three system passed through central Vanuatu overnight before taking a more southerly track towards neighbouring New Caledonia.

It is expected to intensify and move closer to New Zealand over the next 48 hours.

TC Hola is moving at 11kmph and has winds of over 100kmph at its centre. Meteorologists say wind speeds will intensify.

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 11 issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology Department, Port Vila at 9:27am VUT Thursday 8 March 2018 for MALAMPA and SHEFA provinces.

At 8am local time today, Severe Tropical Cyclone HOLA [954hPa] Category 3 was located at 17.0 degrees South 165.8 degrees East. This is about 195 KM west southwest of Malekula and 280 KM west northwest of Efate.

In the past 3 hours, Severe Tropical Cyclone HOLA was moving in a west southwest direction at 11 KM/HR (6 knots).

Sustained winds close to the centre are estimated at 150 KM/HR (80 knots).

South 165.3 degrees East within the next 06 hours. 

Damaging gale force winds of 75 KM/HR (40 knots) are expected to continue to affect SANMA, PENAMA and TAFEA provinces today.

Destructive storm force winds of 110KM/HR (60 Knots), gusting to 160 KM/HR (85 Knots) are expected to continue to affect MALAMPA and SHEFA provinces today and in the next 12 to 24 hours.

Very destructive hurricane force winds of 145 KM/HR (85 knots), gusting to 205KM/HR (110 knots) are expected over Malekula, Epi, Shepherds and parts of Efate.

French navy intercepts Vietnamese  fishermen

By Netani Rika in Manila.

THE French Navy has intercepted two Vietnamese blue boats fishing illegally in New Caledonian waters.

This is the second interdiction of Vietnamese boats by the Fench authorities in the Pacific this year.

In a joint operation with the Australian Defence Forces the boats carrying shark fins and skins were seized and their crews detained on Thursday.

Describing the blue boats as unacceptable, New Caledonia’s representative to the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Manuel Ducrocq, called for serious measures against Vietnam.

“Despite the assurances of Vietnam last year, the illegal operations of these blue boats continues,” Ducrocq said at the Tuna Commission meeting in Pasay City in the Philippines.

“I am here to warn you that the blue boats are back and we find this unacceptable.”

In July three Vietnamese blue boat captains were fines $USD1.4million for illegal operations in Solomon Islands waters. They were jailed for four years after failing to pay the fines.

Blue boats typically scour reefs for highly valuable beche-de-mer, trochus, giant clam, shark fin, turtle and abalone for the Vietnamese market.

Typically built of wood they are very low in the water and extremely difficult to detect by maritime patrols and satellites.

Previously blue boats have been caught in the Federates States of Micronesia, Palau and Australia.

Ducrocq said that while blue boats did not directly affect tuna, they were the biggest example of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing in the Pacific region.

Illegal fishing is worth an estimated $USD235million annually and makes up for 20 per cent of fisheries activity around the world, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.

Bubba Cook of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said blue boat activities were  emblematic about the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing.

“If those vessels are getting in what about other vessels that are getting in and what about the lack of reporting,” Cook said.

“We know from the Forum Fisheries Agency analysis that was done on IUU a couple of years ago that the biggest proportion of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing in the region is not the illegal vessels like the Blue Boats but the unreported portion, or misreported portions, so people not filing out log books or failing to record things or looking the other way on things has even a bigger impact than the Blue Boats.“

Cook said blue boats highlighted a problem with illegal activities which must be addressed by the region.

The Solomon Islands’ Chief Justice, Sir Alan Palmer , said in his judgment of illegal Vietnamese fishing captains that IUU was a new phenomenon to the region and caused much concern, in terms of the theft of  valuable sea resources and wealth.

“This is relatively new way of intruding into the territorial seas and coastal waters by relatively small foreign vessels to fish for inshore species, with a focus on high value product in the Asian market,” Palmer said.

Palmer said blue boat captains took calculated risks to enter into the exclusive economic zone of Solomon Islands waters on the view that the Pacific was a soft target.

“I can assure you and everyone else thinking of coming into our waters that if caught you will be appropriately dealt with under our laws,”  Palmer warned.

Less than 12 month later New Caledonia has warned the Pacific that the region is still a target despite the Solomon Islands ruling and the seizure and destruction of blue boats by Palau and Indonesia in 2015.

Philippe Gomes is a happy man. His anti-independence party Calédonie Ensemble has done well in New Caledonia’s elections, gaining more seats than the conservative RassemblementUMP (RUMP) Party that has long dominated New Caledonian politics. In the 11 May vote for three provincial assemblies and national Congress, Calédonie Ensemble (CE) improved its vote over two major conservative rivals.

The result for CE is the latest in a series of defeats for the previously dominant RUMP, which suffered a major split last year, leading to the creation of the breakaway Union pour la Calédonie dans la France (UCF). In a post-election interview with Islands Business, Gomes stressed that his party’s victory in the Southern province comes at a crucial time, as New Caledonia moves to a decision on its future political status.

“We are entering into a special period – the exit from the Noumea Accord,” he said. “We must negotiate with the independence movement and prepare for a referendum. Facing supporters of independence like Paul Neaoutyine and Roch Wamytan, I think that New Caledonians wanted someone solid. They decided that that person is me, instead of the Rassemblement.”

While stressing the importance of maintaining ties with France, Gomes distinguished his party from the other pro-French coalitions: “I think that we’re more nationalist, even though we don’t support independence. We want New Caledonia to remain within the French Republic, but also that we should govern ourselves. That’s the difference between us and other pro-French parties that have remained very strongly dependent on France. France is 22,000 kilometres away!”

Stressing his support across Noumea and the Southern province, Gomes noted: “Even those people who normally don’t agree with my economic and social policies, they now say, ‘Gomes, he’s more certain’. In the southern suburbs of Noumea – the posh suburbs that have never voted for me before – this time, I won in all those suburbs.”

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Maritime border dispute flares up again

Sea border dispute between Vanuatu and New Caledonia has resulted in the arrest and conviction of a Chinese boat captain and members of his crew. New Caledonian maritime surveillance authorities claimed the long line vessel was fishing inside its territorial waters and slapped it with a US$5.5m fine. Hugues Gossvin of Navimon Fishing Company said the Hu Yu 911 ship was seized by the French Navy in December last year. He told reporters who attended an European Union funded Tuna workshop in Noumea that although the longliner was licensed to fish in Vanuatu waters, it was found fishing however within New Caledonian waters, a claim denied by the boat captain and the Government of Vanuatu.

“The catch and the ship has been confiscated and the crew are still negotiating their fate with the authorities,” said Gossvin. Crew members of Hu Yu 911 were still on the boat in Noumea when Islands Business toured the Navimon operation last February. Gossvin said New Caledonian authorities had considered selling the vessel. However the state of the vessel might not meet the high phytosanitary standards that the French demands of New Caledonian vessels. The fishing industry in this French territory only had long line fishing vessels and all are locally owned. “We do not have any distant water fishing nations’ boats fishing in our waters,” he said. It is understood the captain of the fishing boat was prosecuted in a Noumea court, found guilty of fishing illegally and fined.

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Debates over electoral rolls and alliances

The United Nations has sent a delegation to New Caledonia in the lead up to crucial municipal and provincial elections as supporters and opponents of independence joust over who should have the right to vote. The UN delegation arrived in New Caledonia in March in the midst of the electoral campaign for local town councils.

The visit also coincided with the arrival of French judges charged with updating the electoral rolls for national elections to be held on 11 May. According to a UN statement, the objective of the visit is to monitor “New Caledonia’s provincial electoral process, especially the technical issues related to the electoral lists for the provincial elections in May, as well as to uphold the spirit and letter of the 1998 Noumea Accord in this process.”

New Caledonia was relisted with the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation in 1986, and since that time the UN has maintained a watching brief over progress towards a referendum on self-determination in the French Pacific dependency. As Islands Business magazine goes to press, voters in New Caledonia are awaiting the results of two rounds of voting in municipal elections held on 23 and 30 March. The final results will give an indication of the balance of forces within and between political camps. A good result in the municipal elections will also provide momentum for political parties as they campaign for elections in May for New Caledonia’s three provincial assemblies and national Congress.

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