"20-year sea voyager calls FSM government personnel "unprofessional and intimidatory."

March 07, 2007

The Kaselehlie Press

A disgruntled yachtsman had some choice words for the Garden Island of the FSM after going through the ringer of an eight day bureaucratic blundering and what he called the "cavalier attitude" of several state agencies.

The comments came in the form of a lengthy letter written by Mauro Migliorelli & Pauline Wilkinson aboard the S.V. Shadow of Lorelei, a Lord Nelson 41, cutter-rigged sloop that they have sailed around the globe with, and moored in Pohnpei from November 29th, 2006 to January 25th, 2007.

The letter was sent to numerous departments. "Not one single acknowledgement of receipt, courstey reply or reply to the problem posed has been received to this date from any of the people," said Migliorelli in an email from Guam, where he and Wilkinson are moored at the Marianas Yacht Club in Apra Harbor.

Further, Migliorelli said in an email to the KPress that "since leaving Pohnpei several yachts that had intended to transit have instead diverted to other ports after hearing from yachts that had stopped by your township of the unprofessional and cavalier attitude of your 'government officers'."

A blow to the economy? Not likely. But still, the letter brings up an interesting point of consideration: how much of the duties of the agencies tasked with securing the welfare of the public at large should be tilted toward making sure visitors are made to feel welcome, particularly the growing segment of yachts people?

The FSM Congress Public Information Office, the FSM Department of Finance, FSM Department of Customs and Tax Administration, the FSM Department of Foreign Affairs, the Pohnpei Department of Economic Affairs, the FSM Department of Transportation, Communication, and Infrastructure, and the Pohnpei Port Authority were sent copies of the letter last month. The letter was also given to the Pohnpei Visitors Bureau.

By most local accounts, it is an isolated incident. An interview with FSM Chief of Immigration, Mohner Esiel, and Senior Immigration and Labor Officer, Aurelio Joab, revealed that this was a grievance that was rare. "This is the first time," said Esiel, on receiving a letter of complaint.

Edgar Santos, the General Manager of the PVB took the letter seriously and followed up by sending the letter of complaint, along with his own letter, to Esiel last week. "At the outset," Santos says in his letter, "I am deeply concerned for the legitimacy of Mr. Migliorelli's views of Pohnpei - in light of the fact that we spend precious dollars to attract visitors to Pohnpei but, most importantly, we are proud of our culturally ingrained hospitality."

On that particular day - November 29th at around 5:00pm - when the Shadow of Lorelei was at the Pohnpei Port, FSM Immigration officers may have an excuse for their actions.

At that time there was a Chinese National that FSM Immigration was pursuing. On August 26, 2003 the Chinese government warned FSM Immigration about a Marshallese passport holder residing on the island. They warned them then also that the following day six Chinese women were to fly a chartered Caroline Island Air plane to Pohnpei from Yap, bypassing Guam and its maze of security.

"He will induce or even enforce the women to serve sex in Pohnpei," the curt letter of 2003 from the Chinese Embassy explained. "David has a vicious plan to set up his business of sex service in Pohnpei in disguise of such normal business as a pub or a restaurant. It is no doubt that David's action is illegal, will bring instability to the local society, and even undermine the bilateral relations between China and the FSM."

The Chinese/Marshallese citizen is David Mingfa Xu and shortly after that letter in 2003, was declared persona non grata in the FSM.

While the Shadow of Lorelei waited, David Xu, who was placed under house arrest at the Harbor View Hotel because he was "considered a flight risk", shortly after deplaning, indeed did manage to elude two National police and an FSM Immigration officer in order to seek private counsel with his lawyer, Mr. Martin Jano. Ultimately, David Xu was tracked down at the South Park Hotel, where he was drinking tea.

Aurelio Joab would later say this about Xu, once they returned him to his room at China Star: "He was very uptight. Every once in a while we would look up at his room and check to make sure he didn't jump out..."

(Called later about his client, Jano said he that he fully supported the nation's exclusion of foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes, but was "offended" by the arbitrary removal of David's civil rights with "no strong evidence" to support such an action. Frankly, he stated, it "violated the Vienna Convention" on human rights.)

Joab stated at his office that it is always the procedure to meet private yachts with "no less than two" officers, and furthermore, that the Immigration officer who initially boarded the Lorelei was reprimanded for not only boarding solo, but also for failing for several days thereafter to report that a vessel required a permit.

Although Joab cited "the bigger challenges coming every day" to Pohnpei's borders, he said in no uncertain terms that the individual(s) could potentially face suspensions over the incident. The chief complaint lodged by the Migliorelli and Wilkinson letter related to the "check in/out procedures" at the "Port of Kolonia", explaining that the "solid concrete wharf walls" endanger both the integrity of the yachts' hulls, and the safety of the crew aboard.

"Small private sailing yachts are being directed by the Pohnpei Port Authority and other Government departments to tie up to the same concrete wharves that fishing vessels and cargo ships use for that purpose," the lengthy letter begins. It continues, "PPA, Customs, Immigration, Agriculture, and the EPA are opening themselves up to litigation...(and make them) culpable of negligence."

The letter also blasts FSM Immigration for "unprofessional and intimidatory behaviour," noting the fact that it took eight days and several trips to get a passport stamp that should have been done "on the first day."

"We believe that after some 25,000 sea miles - 20 years and 85 countries - we can speak with some authority…as to whether a particular location is visitor friendly or not. Pohnpei is not," the letter concludes, revealing that the "4,000-4,500 private sailing vessels touring the South and North Pacific" stay away from Chuuk because of "a very negative reputation", and that Pohnpei "seems to be headed a similar way."

Migliorelli and Wilkinson make the central recommendation that the PPA undertake efforts to construct "an appropriate-sized facility" such as a "yacht basin…or a floating, caisson type of pontoon with yacht sized cleats." They also recommend that check in requirements be coordinated and streamlined through all agencies, and that a training program be undertaken for "personnel that have contact with incoming tourists." Santos in his letter says, "those are very good recommendations", in contemplating the Migliorelli letter.

Esiel was not defensive in his retort to the letter and seemed to take it positively. He quickly and effortlessly said that such comments present constructive criticism that can be used "as a tool to improve our services." "Generally we try our best to accommodate all visitors, and I think that most of the time we do. It's unique. I truly appreciate it though and we need to see what we can do to make sure we welcome these people." Esiel agreed "that berthing is difficult" for the smaller private vessels, and vowed to look into ways to accommodate them better in the future.

Some investigation revealed that the Seaport division at the PPA has a budget item for the construction in 2008, of a special pontoon of the sort that Migliorelli and Wilkinson suggested.