Plans for cash and repatriation

Air Marshall Islands Dash-8 aircraft normally is focused on domestic air service in the RMI. It may be used for a special flight to Pohnpei to return a handful of RMI citizens stranded by the Covid-19 ban on incoming travelers. Photo: Giff Johnson.

GIFF JOHNSON

RMI government authorities are making special arrangements for Guam-based couriers to bring an overdue delivery of cash for local banks and, separately, for a handful of Marshallese stranded in Pohnpei to return to Majuro.

Although planning has progressed, it is unclear if either of these initiatives will happen, based on:

• The reluctance of AMI flight crew to make a special flight to Pohnpei to return the stranded Marshallese, who include two UA staff who went to Pohnpei for training and were there when the travel ban was initially put into place in early March.

• Whether or not the United Airlines flight will operate here May 20-21.

“I met with our crew on Monday and they are reluctant to make the flight to Pohnpei,” said AMI General Manager Drauna Waqasokolala. “The crew is scared of the situation.” The AMI GM added that, “No one knows what’s in Pohnpei” — a reference to whether or not the coronavirus is present. To date, there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Pohnpei or anywhere in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The AMI flight crew “doesn’t want to be blamed for bringing coronavirus to RMI,” he said. Waqasokolala said he was surprised, too, when RMI authorities told AMI that while the returning Marshallese would have to complete a quarantine period after arrival, the AMI flight crew would not need to do the same.

He added that the Chief Secretary has scheduled a meeting this Thursday for the AMI flight crew and management to meet with Ministry of Health medical experts to discuss the situation and come to a decision about the proposed flight.

The fallback for RMI authorities, if the AMI option does not work, is the possibility of bringing the stranded Marshallese in on the May 20 United flight, according to reports. But health authorities indicated to the Journal this changed the level of risk associated with the group returning compared to using an AMI plane.

Meanwhile, the Marshall Islands economy needs an injection of US currency. Normally delivered on a monthly basis by Guam-based couriers to Bank of Guam and Bank of Marshall Islands, there has been no delivery for the past two months and cash is increasingly in short supply — apparently the result of businesses or individuals hoarding currency.

To cater to cash couriers coming in, the airport VIP Lounge is being reconfigured so the couriers can overnight inside the lounge and return to Guam on the next day’s flight. RMI health authorities say that since there are no international flights, the VIP Lounge has been unused and so can be used safely for this purpose, with appropriate safeguard protocols in place to prevent direct person-to-person while allowing delivery of the needed currency.

Still, the plan to accommodate the cash couriers from Guam requires the RMI to work out an agreement with United for handling of the plane. United requires its local staff to have access to the United plane to assist customers who are disabled and for other services.

These same interactions during the one UA flight in April resulted in violation of existing health protocols banning person-to-person contact and five local UA staff were put in the Arrak quarantine facility for 14 days.

United and RMI authorities have been negotiating these Covid-19 protocols for the past two weeks.

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