Guys jump ship, get jailed

Ministry of Health and Human Services staff routinely use full body personal protection equipment (PPEs) for decontaminating inbound mail and cargo at the airport, and for managing repatriation groups. But over the past two weeks, with a commercial fisherman needing life-saving surgery, a Marshallese in President Kabua’s repatriation group in Majuro needing emergency evacuation from the Arrak quarantine center to Majuro hospital, and a medivac patient from Chuuk who needed emergency medical care when the United Airlines flight she was traveling on stopped on Majuro, Majuro hospital’s Covid isolation ward has been put to good use with full body PPEs going into more regular use.

GIFF JOHNSON

Majuro Atoll Local Police were kept busy earlier this week when three fishermen from different commercial tuna boats broke quarantine rules and were detained.

All were given Covid tests and tested negative. They were later returned to their vessels, but could be subject to fines of up to $500 for violating RMI Emergency Order issued on February 27, 2020 regarding Covid rules.

The first incident occurred Sunday early morning at Delap Dock when the locally-flagged purse seiner Marshalls 202 was at Delap Dock. Fisherman Calvin Benjamin told police that he ran away from the vessel around 1am Sunday morning and climbed over the fence at Public Works to make his escape. His disappearance was reported to police by the fishing company a few hours later after it was discovered. Police alerted Dr. Frank Underwood, the director of Public Health, and he advised the police that health staff would do a Covid swab test on the fisherman.

Benjamin was located and brought to Majuro hospital for a Covid test, which was done while he waited in the parking lot outside the hospital, according to the MALGov police report. Police noted that Benjamin had already received his Covid vaccination, which was verified from his vaccination card. The test was negative and he was transported back to his vessel.

MALGov’s Marine Patrol Division noted in its report that Benjamin can be fined $500 for a first offense of the RMI Emergency Order of 2020.

The next day, Monday, two longline fishing vessel crew members from Kiribati, who work on vessels associated with MIFV, left their vessels against the rules. This came to light because the fishermen asked Delap Councilman Barry Jekkar’s wife for assistance getting to an ATM in the early morning hours of Monday. She passed the news to the councilman who called MALGov Marine Unit Lt. Francis Lenja, Jr. to alert him to the development and seek Covid advice.

According to the police, the two I-Kiribati who have been working for MIFV-based longliners for a while, were drunk and looking for more alcohol when they were spotted walking around Delap early Monday morning. They specifically requested the Councilman’s wife to withdraw some cash for them to find some more alcohol before they were going to go back to MIFV (all ATMs in Majuro are out of service at the moment).

Alerted to the fishermen’s presence in Delap, a patrol went out and found them, arrested them and took them to jail. MALGov reported that the two individuals were Rouben Ekeamaru and Tikua Raurenti, both longline crew with MIFV. Majuro hospital staff performed Covid tests on the two while at MIPD station in Uliga. Tests were negative, reported the hospital official, noted in the report as “Mr. McGyver.” The two were then escorted back to MIFV by MALGov police.

Police said the two men could also be subject to a $500 fine each for violating Covid emergency rules.

In other Covid news:

• The RMI’s Pandemic Economic Relief Program for Covid-19 awarded $2,229,502 to businesses during the first six months of 2021.

According to Reginald White, who chairs the government’s committee overseeing Covid aid to businesses, the Ministry of Finance issued a series of seven payments from February through the end of June.

These ranged in amount from a low of $21,600 on March 26 to a high of over $1.4 million on June 24. No breakdown was provided of the amounts distributed to the various local businesses that have been declared eligible for Covid aid.

• The Marshall Islands government has paid out over $6 million since last year to local workers who either lost their jobs or faced reduced hours due to the Covid pandemic. RMI Labor Division Director Travis Joe told the Journal that $6,326,904 was paid out in FY2020 and FY2021 to date. The funding was provided through the US government’s initial CARES Act legislation last year, then through the Continued Assistance Act, and most recently the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The current round of benefits for those eligible under ARPA will continue through September 6, according to Joe. “For FY2020, a total of $3,399,979.29 was paid out to 102 claimants who were eligible to receive benefits,” he said. “$2,926,925.95 has been paid out since January 2021 to date (to 343 people). The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Office under the Labor Division continues to receive applications from claimants applying for benefits and we continue to urge others to apply.

“We are grateful for receiving such assistance from the US government in helping our economy stay afloat thus far. Whether or not the program will continue or if we will receive further assistance in other forms after September is yet to be confirmed.”

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