Maritime Cook Islands mulls over investigating stabbing incident

AVARUA, Cook Islands,  Jan 9, 2021: The stabbing incident which took place on January 1, resulted in the death of a Burmese sailor who was onboard the foreign oil tanker ‘New Progress’. The oil tanker was in waters northeast of Taiwan when the incident happened, says the Coast Guard Administration (CGA). According to Taipei Times, a call from the Cook Islands-registered New Progress was received at about 6pm on Friday, when the vessel was in international waters off the coast of New Taipei City’s Shihmen District. Maritime Cook Islands’ registrar of ships, Moeroa Mamanu-Matheson said they have contacted their Singapore agent for an incident report.

“Once we understand the circumstances, we will decide whether or not we need to investigate further.” Meanwhile, the deceased is a 27-year-old man, identified as Wai Phy Aumg, who was flown to Taipei International Airport (Songshan Airport) after being allegedly stabbed by another crew member. He was declared dead on arrival at a nearby hospital. The case is outside of the Taiwanese Coast Guard Administration’s jurisdiction, as the vessel was not in Taiwan’s territorial waters at the time, the vessel is not owned by a Taiwanese company and the crew members are foreign nationals. Cook Islands will decide whether or not to investigate a stabbing incident that occurred on board a Cook Islands registered vessel.

Government Debt Load ‘High Risk Strategy in Cook Islands

AVARUA, Dec 18, 2020:: Public debt is expected to climb and exceed an official target as the economy continues to suffer in the absence of tourists, leading one prominent businessman to question the sustainability of government finances. As the global economy continues to feel the effects of the pandemic, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is expecting the Pacific region to suffer more than what was previously forecasted, with a number of countries including the Cook Islands, struggling to keep their economies afloat.

With borders shut indefinitely, the Cook Islands economy will have contracted 7 per cent by the close of this year, and even if borders were to open at the beginning of 2021, the ADB estimates a further 15.4 per cent drop in gross domestic product in the coming year. With a potential bubble with New Zealand expected by the end of March next year, government will be looking at a mix of cash grants and additional borrowing to bridge the gap in the budget and keep the economy ticking along.

The ADB says additional borrowing will push net public debt from 16.7 per cent of GDP as recorded in fiscal 2019 to 43.8 per cent of GDP during the 2021 financial year, exceeding a government guideline of keeping debt below a target of 35 per cent of GDP. Financial Secretary Garth Henderson said government would be looking at cash grants and additional borrowing to make ends meet. “Obviously the timing of the opening of quarantine free travel between NZ and Rarotonga is going to have a major impact on the local economy,” Henderson said.

Regarding the ADB assessment, Henderson said: “I see nothing significantly out of sync with our assessment of the economy nor future outlook, although situation remains dynamic with remaining uncertainties around vaccine rollout, pace of resurgence of international travel and tourism, production and supply chains and global economy.” While the ADB anticipates the net debt-to-GDP ratio to drop back to within the government’s target of 35 per cent in 2024, the Rarotongan Resort managing director Tata Crocombe said that would be conditional on tourism bouncing back to pre-Covid levels and begin contributing substantially to the economy.

“The issue with the sustainability of the unprecedented large government debt is we really don’t know where tourism is going in the short, medium or long term,” Crocombe said. “In order for this level of unprecedented government debt to be sustainable, the Cook Islands tourism industry would have to recover quickly and surpass pre-Covid levels of 180,000 visitors a year.” With no firm date on opening the border with NZ and Australia – two major markets for the tourism sector – Crocombe described government’s increasing debt load as a “high risk strategy”.

“The question has to be whether this debt is being used for short term consumption, or is it an investment in the long-term future of the country’s economy so that these government debts can be repaid and not be forever a dead weight on the country and community.” The ADB report says the ongoing economic contraction is expected to impact employment and household incomes, particularly for women who hold 61 per cent of tourism-related jobs.