Pacific Periscope

by Dev Nadkarni
EU to rescue black pearl industry

In recent years, French Polynesia has seen a steady decline in its black pearl farming industry that was once its top revenue earner. Tahitian black pearls have been popular in the international markets for decades but their primacy has been challenged lately by other South Pacific islands – notably the Cook Islands and Fiji. Investment in the industry, too, has dried up in French Polynesia over the past decade. As part of its ninth European Development Fund, the European Union has now set aside some 435 million CFP (French Pacific Francs) ($US5.8 million) to revitalise the industry. International experts will train black pearl farmers on site on improved harvesting techniques, quality control and higher productivity. Part of the funds will go toward a survey on international marketing opportunities to help the industry.

Sarkozy-Bruni visit boosts Tahiti tourism
French Polynesian tour operators have been flooded with calls from around the region and France about President Nicolas Sarkozy’s impending visit to the territory this month. After a long wait and conflicting reports over months about whether he and new wife Carla Bruni would be visiting at all, French Polynesian radio have confirmed the glamour couple will be coming. The uncertainty over his visit came after reports that the French authorities had planned to can the visit after the sudden return of Gaston Flosse to the French Polynesian presidency following the February elections. After the redoubtable Flosse refused to join a coalition with a group that was backed by French political parties, Sarkozy’s UMP party broke ties with his Tahoeraa Huiraatira party. Some reports say the president’s visit is to coincide with a Bruni concert in Tahiti.

Kissinger hones old skills in the Pacific
Investment group GEMS has been trying hard to enter Papua New Guinea rough and tumble mobile phone market. It has taken on board former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as an adviser, hoping his famed negotiating skills will help them get them a toehold. The PNG mobile market has suddenly taken off after Digicel’s entry and the liberalisation of the telecommunications environment. GEMS first tried to acquire Indonesian mobile network operator GreenCom, which has an operating licence in PNG. But GreenCom has rejected GEMS’ overtures so far. Reports say it is now interested in acquiring the state-owned B-Mobile.
Undersea exploration begins to pay off
Mining company Nautilus symbolically presented the first tonne of ore mined in the seabed off Papua New Guinea’s coast to the country’s mining minister, Dr Puka Temu, who is also the deputy prime minister. The prospecting operation deep under the floor of the Bismarck Sea hopes to find gold, zinc and copper deposits, which could well lead to PNG building the world’s first ever sub-sea gold and copper mine. Nautilus believes this may start a whole new trend in seabed mining around the world. The company plans to deploy remote controlled robotic equipment to mine the seabed, more than 1500m below the bottom of the seas to “surgically” harvest the precious metal bearing ore on to the surface.

South Korea jumps on the mining bandwagon
The Kingdom of Tonga has awarded South Korea the rights to prospect up to $US100 million worth of raw minerals from the seafloor in its territorial waters. Tongan authorities said the exclusive exploration rights cover a 20,000sq km area around the Tongan islands. Korea is expected to mine close to 300,000 tonnes of ore containing gold, copper and zinc. Two years of prospecting and sampling should reveal the size of the deposits, say the Tongan authorities, after which mining will begin in earnest.

Pen is mightier than the press
The Pentecost Star has the distinction of being the region’s – perhaps the world’s – only handwritten newspaper. “Published” from Vanuatu’s remote Pentecost Island, the Star is a weekly newspaper that has been in existence for eight months. It is edited and written several times over by Keith Keith Hango, who started life as a newspaper boy selling the Vanuatu Trading Post many years ago. He puts out the paper every Saturday equipped with just a pen, paper, ruler and stapler.
No charging please…
The Solomon Airlines office in Auki in Solomon Islands’ once-troubled Malaita province has a huge sign outside it – and it’s not about cheap fares or holiday packages. It prominently tells people that mobile phones will not be charged at the office. Apparently, people visiting the town centre, where the office is located, routinely dropped off their mobile phones with friends and relatives working there to have them charged while they go about their business. Not that they want to save on their power bills: though there is a mobile network in the outlying villages, there is simply no power supply in many of them.

Dev Nadkarni, an Auckland-based journalist specialising in Pacific affairs, is editor of Email:


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