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Yachties contradict Kiribati claims over food shortage

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated May 14, 2010 16:46:38

Yachtsmen in the central Pacific are disputing claims by the Kiribati government that it has not received requests for food aid from remote Canton island. The 14 adults abcwire.send-mungmung.rapband 10 children on the small atoll in the isolated Phoenix group have run out of vital supplies and are living on coconuts and fish only. The Secretary of Commerce, Rikiaua Takeke, told Pacific Beat yesterday that they had not been officially asked for help by the islanders, and that a ship would be on its way soon. But American yachtsman James Bandy, who runs a side-band radio service for yachtsmen from his anchorage in Vanua Levu in Fiji, tells Bruce Hill that is simply not true.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: James Bandy, American yachtsman

BANDY: The yachties would claim that that's an absolute untruth. There have been more than one that comes up on my radio program that have visited Canton and one of them was there on the 24th March, with Frank, which is the officer in charge, the police officer, I am not sure what all of his duties are. And anyway at the time, he made his daily report to Tarawa I believe over.

HILL: So in fact there has been a food shortage on Canton for more than six weeks?

BANDY: Yes, there has. There is more than one of us who has heard Frank make more than one report to the government to say we're out of food. Then beginning about the middle of April, April 15th, 20th, somewhere there, Frank called on my single side man, Ned, and asked if I could arrange for a yacht to bring supplies. Unfortunately we have not any yachts heading that way that could stop and bring supplies.

HILL: So to recap, the policeman on Canton Island has been calling on radio for more than six weeks for anyone to bring them food aid?

BANDY: That would be correct. He files a daily report as I understand with the to the Government and has since the 24th been requesting assistance. It was only sometime around mid April that I found out about it and he's been requesting our assistance since then.

HILL: Have the yachties been able to render any assistance, because the first time the outside world got to hear about this was when another yachtie, Alex Bond, who was delivering a yacht from Hawaii to Queensland anchored there and that was basically on the 9th of this month and that is when the story got out. What your saying is yachties have been aware of this situation developing for a lot longer than that?

BANDY: Yes, that is true. I am sure you're aware Canton is quite remote and no, the yachties have not been able to render other assistance, because there was not anyone heading in that direction.
HILL: The Kiribati Government said they have not actually received an official request for food aid from Canton. They were quite definite about that. Is what your saying that in fact that is not true, that the Canton Islanders have been calling out for assistance basically from anyone?

BANDY: That is correct. One of the yachties called me and was very upset saying his lying, straight out lying, because I was there with Frank when he first reported it.

HILL: So how strongly do the yachties in the Central Pacific feel about this?

BANDY: Well, I would say that all of us that are aware are pretty upset. The net this time of year is fairly small. There is probably 12 to 15, may be 20 yachts that participate on a pretty regular basis, almost everyday, two or three of those who have visited Canton are very upset about it.

HILL: Is there anything the yachties can do to help the people on Canton with their food shortage do you think?

BANDY: Well, Canton is a very difficult thing for the yachties, because it is going against the current and against the wind and going the wrong direction. We don't have many people that would leave the Marshalls, the US, Pango Pango, going in that direction who could drop off supplies, so there is not a whole lot we can do at this point.

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