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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rota East Harbor opened to address crisis
Port fees waived during state of emergency

Acting governor Jude U. Hofschneider opened on Saturday Rota’s East Harbor and waived port fees to all vessels entering the island to deliver essential goods to the CNMI’s southernmost island during this time of food and other commodities’ shortage. Rota has been declared under a state of emergency since Feb. 14.

For three months now or since Nov. 18, 2013, Rota has been unable to receive essential goods and commodities as the barges couldn’t enter the West Harbor due to rough seas and bad weather conditions.

Although some goods have been brought into Rota via airplane, including those from the U.S. Department of Defense, not all essential goods and commodities can be brought in without using sea transportation and supplies have “currently been depleted.”

“Although the Commonwealth Ports Authority has not established or regulated East Harbor as a port of entry for Rota, the ongoing emergency situation on Rota justifies its use as a temporary port of entry to alleviate Rota’s severe lack of essential goods and commodities,” the acting governor said.

Although weather conditions have prevented barges from entering Rota’s West Harbor, smaller cargo vessels may be able to enter the port, and waiving port fees and charges for vessels entering Rota could help alleviate Rota’s emergency, he said.

Hofschneider, in his Feb. 22 directive, ordered the special assistant for CNMI Homeland Security and Emergency Management to coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Rota Mayor’s Office and the Commonwealth Ports Authority to provide for Rota East Harbor’s safe use “as an alternate port of entry for the delivery of essential goods and commodities to Rota during this emergency period.”

“The use of East Harbor as a port of entry shall discontinue upon the termination of the state of emergency,” the acting governor said in his two-page directive

Under the governor’s directive, any cargo vessels entering Rota’s East Harbor shall be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and shall carry the necessary permits from the same federal agency.

“The payment of port fees and charges required under NMIAC 40-20.1-165 is waived for all cargo vessels entering Rota during this emergency period. Port fees and charges shall be reinstated upon the termination of the state of emergency,” the acting governor said in his directive.

He added that this information shall be disseminated “to all shipping companies that have the capabilities and authorization to deliver goods and commodities to Rota,” he said.

GPPC president H. Chieng Tan, meanwhile, wrote to the governor to offer their cargo vessel services using the MV Jayden, a landing craft-style, roll-on, roll-off vessel.

Tan said the vessel is U.S. Coast Guard-certified and can carry up to two 40-foot containers, or four 20-foot containers, or break bulk cargo on its deck. He said the company has started providing Saipan-Tinian services recently using this vessel and is ready to commence a Saipan-Rota service as well.

“A commitment from the government will allow us to mobilize necessary resources to make this service available. We are prepared to offer up to two sailings per week to Rota, if necessary,” Tan told the governor. The company asked to be allowed to dock at Rota’s East Harbor.

The acting governor also said additional measures may be taken to address the emergency on Rota.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ Feb. 14 declaration of a state of emergency for Rota is in effect for 30 days.

Rota Mayor Melchor Mendiola asked for an extension of the 30-day emergency declaration, saying more time is needed to address the problems on Rota.

“To provide us this opportunity, I suggest that we use government funds to subsidize a shipping firm (we have established dialogue with one) to provide this service in the interim while a private firm can secure funding for a long-term solution,” the mayor said.

Hofschneider on Friday received updates from the Rota mayor who said that while food supplies are being delivered to Rota via air freight, the island needs other supplies than can only be transported via sea vessel such as LPG or liquefied petroleum gas, and chlorine.

Senate bill

Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), meanwhile, is set to introduce a bill on Tuesday authorizing the use of Rota’s East Harbor as an alternate port of entry for small cargo vessels to address what he describes as “infrequent and irregular shipping services” available to the island.

Manglona said the weather conditions that have prevented barges from entering West Harbor oftentimes do not affect East Harbor.

Rota has had several calamities over the last few years due to shortage of essential goods.

Manglona said opening up East Harbor as an alternate port for small ships will also promote the exportation of local products on Rota such as sweet potato, taro, and water due to increased shipping frequency for exporting such products.

Senate vice president Victor Hocog (R-Rota) earlier said a private company has expressed interest in providing shipping services to and from Rota, as well as Guam, Saipan and Tinian.

“I’m trying to convince the investor if they are willing to be in a partnership with the Rota Municipal government to leverage reduction of freight costs for Rota residents,” he said.

Hocog added that the company has already identified a $1.1-million ship from Louisiana.

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