Michael Field
Reporter & author - Pacific




+64 21 688438

Skype: michaeljfieldakld

Twitter @mjfield


Shock at the scale of fishing in South Pacific


Fleets of sophisticated Chinese and Spanish fishing boats working the edge of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone have been exposed by an American volunteer group whose work is creating a revolution to the environmental movement. Fishing boats create picket fence lines on the edge of the EEZ around places like the Kermadecs and off East Cape, taking bluefin tuna, swordfish and orange roughy.

‘‘Most people would be gobsmacked by what we are finding,’’ geologist John Amos said from Shepherdstown, West Virginia, (pop. 805) where the group SkyTruth operating out of an office behind a draper’s shop.

They’ve also spotted an unusual 34-year-old Cambodian flagged tuna boat, Gral, leaving Suva, Fiji, and making straight for New Zealand’s Raoul Island despite having no licence, permissions or complying with normally strict quarantine procedures.


Fiji says bula to i-Kiribati

People of a central Pacific nation facing inundation from sea-level rise have been told they are welcome to move to Fiji.

"In a worst-case scenario and if all else fails, you will not be refugees," Fiji President Epeli Nailatikau told the 101,000 people of Kiribati.

"You will be able to migrate with dignity. The spirit of the people of Kiribati will not be extinguished."

New Zealand's judicial system last year refused to recognise citizens of Kiribati as climate refugees.


RNZAF patrols not helping as Kiribati becomes major IUU fisher

New Zealand ’s costly air force surveillance of one of the world’s largest fisheries is failing to stop pirate fishing stripping hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tuna from waters of one of the poorest states. A report by parliament’s foreign affairs, defence and trade committee says the central Pacific’s Kiribati is a major victim of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The committee was examining whether New Zealand should ratify an international treaty which would ban ships suspected of IUU fishing from entering our ports.


Murder and the journalists who reported it

When 13-year-old Sereima Degei was found hanging by her neck from a mango tree, Fiji ’s police ruled she was the latest victim of the teenage suicide epidemic. Only this month, six years later, have they concede Sereima had been raped and drowned by four men. Her dead body was hung from a tree. Even at the time, September 2007, police knew who did it, but it took journalist Ricardo Morris to get action. Fiji ’s military regime control media by decree, but Morris took the risk to report something critical of authorities.

“We are doing journalism like we are supposed to.”


PNG parliament sorcery "clean out"

Uproar has hit the New Zealand built Parliament House in Papua New Guinea ’s capital Port Moresby with claims sorcery, black magic and non-Christian gods are infecting it. Speaker Theodore Zurenouc has had artwork and carvings torn off the building and destroyed, claiming that while they are “harmless and lifeless wood, they symbolically represent ancestral gods and spirits of idolatry, immorality and witchcraft.” He is backed up by a group of MPs linked to an Israel based Messianic “Zionist-Christian” sect who want PNG to share an “Israeli god”. The massive building, across the road from the rather more humble Lockwood home style New Zealand High Commission, was completed in 1982 as a showpiece by Fletcher Construction Ltd.


Fifa says no membership to Tuvalu

As if sinking into the ocean is not bad enough, the small South Pacific nation of Tuvalu is being refused membership of world’s football family as a result of rulings by the Auckland based Oceania Football Confederation. The official reason the nation of nearly 12,000 cannot join football’s world governing body Fifa is that they do not have anywhere to play the beautiful game. Instead they play on the sole runway on the main atoll Funafuti and take a break when planes land. During king tides low-lying Funafuti is usually swamped by sea water.


Secret high resolution photos not available in Nina search

When Osama bin Laden went outside he knew satellites could spot him, so he wore a cowboy hat to hide his face. With high resolution pictures he was spotted anyway and its the same kind of pictures that some believe might spot the missing 21-metre long US yacht Nina in the Tasman. But the public are not allowed to see them. Nina, with seven aboard, left Opua on May 29 bound for Newcastle, Australia. It was last heard from on June 4 reporting very rough conditions. On June 25 the Rescue Coordination Centre launched a search but found nothing.  Crew families say there is no evidence Nina sank.


Bainimarama says he will run in elections

Fiji’s military coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama says he will be a candidate in democracy restoring elections next year. But despite being past the mandatory 55-years-old retirement age, Bainimarama, 59, is declining to give up his command of the Fiji military forces for now. He used them in 2006 to seize power in a coup.


Global warming refugee attracting international interest

  A case before the High Court in Auckland is attracting international attention for the way it could change the legal definition of a refugee. An i-Kiribati man, Ioane Teitiota, 37, has appealed to the High Court against a decision of the Immigration and Protection Tribunal which denied his bid to become a refugee on the basis that his Kiribati homeland was being swamped by the rising Pacific as a result of global warming. Diplomatic sources said this week that missions here are keenly following the outcome while the British Home Office is concerned the High Court decision could be precedent setting for them. Last year Britain had 21,785 asylum applications and one source said that as many as 90 percent of them might be able to argue a global warming context for becoming a refugee. Teitiota had told IPT that he had decided to try to leave but there was no land anywhere in Kiribati for the family. They came to New Zealand in 2007 on a work permit and had three children here. His wife did not want to leave. Bruce Burson, who made up the IPT, said he accepted a "sad reality" that Kiribati and its people were facing environmental degradation and disaster. But he said Teitiota's claim under the Refugee Convention must fail because the effects of environmental degradation on his standard of living were, by his own admission, faced by the population generally. "The sad reality is that the environmental degradation caused by both slow and sudden-onset natural disasters is one which is faced by the Kiribati population generally."


China moving into the Ross Sea

China is to build a large new Antarctic base near New Zealand's Scott Base in a move an Australian state-funded think tank believes has strategic and military implications. It may also have benefits for Christchurch, which will offer the easiest gateway to the new base. China, India and South Korea are ramping up their moves in the region while Canberra is backing off, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (Aspi) says in Cold calculations: Australia's Antarctic challenges published today. The report reveals China this year surveyed New Zealand's Ross Sea area and decided to build its fourth base on the continent 300 kilometres north of Scott Base at Terra Nova Bay. Italy and South Korea already have bases there. Qu Tanzhou, head of China's Antarctic expedition team, said the new base will be built by 2015.



Radio New Zealand National

 Papua New Guinea virtually nationalises the huge Ok Tedi mine - fierce political reaction, and a startling report on the horrors inflicted by Indonesian soldiers in West Papua in the 1970s



Maori look to Iceland to save NZ fishing industry


A single fact shows the mind set that has afflicted New Zealand's fishing industry; it says it can only survive with low wage Third World crews on second hand chartered boats. In Iceland fishermen are on the top of salary lists, boats are modern and there is a queue of Icelanders wanting jobs at sea. The dean of the school of business and science at Iceland's University of Akureyri, Ogmundur Knutsson, believes New Zealand is trapped in a low cost model. "From what I have seen and heard? people are stuck in a box of thinking," he said in an interview. "They don't seem to be able to break out of the box."



Japanese submarine at the bottom of the Tonga Trench


 A manned submarine has for the first time dived more than 10 kilometres to the bottom of the deepest part of the South Pacific Ocean - the second-deepest point in the world. Japanese scientists aboard the submarine Shinkai say they reached the bottom of the Horizon Deep, 10,850 metres down in the Tonga Trench, about 300km south of the Tongan capital, Nuku'alofa.The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology said when the scientists got to the bottom they found the extravagantly named supergiant hadal amphipod, alicella gigantean. About 20 centimetres in length the prawn-like creatures live at great depths.



Radio New Zealand National

 Samoan gang problems in US prisons; a Tongan is going to the winter Olympics; and which day is the sabbath when your dateline moves?



Fiji media harangued over freedom story

Fiji's tightly controlled news media is under the gun again with the country's military-backed regime demanding to know why a story about media freedom was published at all.  A confidential "not for publication" memo reveals that yesterday editors received a demand that they "give an explanation before close of business today" on why they published the story.  The story cited the Pacific Freedom Forum as saying new restrictions on the media were a retrograde step.


Samoan tea the answer to AIDS?

A cure for AIDS could be less than two years away thanks to extensive work into a tree bark used in Samoa to make medicinal tea, a major US scientific conference has been told. Under a licensing deal with American researchers, Samoa is set to get 20 percent of profits from any drug resulting from Samoa's mamala tree. Dr Paul Wender of Stanford University has told the American Chemical Society AIDS medicine could be available in 18 to 24 months. "AIDS has changed from a death sentence to now you can live with AIDS, but do I think we're in a position right now where we can ask the next question, 'Can we actually eradicate the disease? Can you lower the load efficiently, minimize exposure, and limit transmission?' Absolutely," Wender said.


Radio New Zealand National

New concerns over China-subsidised fishing fleet in the Pacific.



Fiji at "Year Zero" - Bainimarama

Fiji's military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama has borrowed a disastrous Cambodian term and declared that with a new constitution signed today Fiji has its "year zero". In a speech at the signing of the constitution, the fourth since independence in 1970, he said that when he staged his coup in 2006 he was launching a revolution.


Kiribati climate refugee bid denied

A man from Kiribati, an island nation threatened by rising sea levels, has lost another bid to live in New Zealand with his wife as refugees along with their New Zealand-born children. Bruce Burson with the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, said he accepted a "sad reality" that Kiribati and its people were facing environmental degradation and disaster. However, that did not mean they could claim refugee status in New Zealand.


SIS raids on Fiji assassin plot revealed again

A High Court decision has appeared to confirm the existence of a Security Intelligence Service operation against a group of Fiji political activists in Auckland suspected of plotting to assassinate Fiji military strongman Voreqe Bainimarama last year. The procedural decision suppresses the name of the applicant - "F" - and all details other than to say he was "formally a senior public servant in Fiji". The man who now lives in Sydney was in Auckland at the time of SIS raids on several Mt Roskill addresses.



Radio New Zealand National

New Zealand and Australia's role with Fiji and the removal of some sanctions.



Fiji puts own soldiers' lives in peril

In a startling amateur fashion Fiji’s military regime has put its own peacekeeping soldiers in grave peril by revealing which side of the Syrian conflict they support. The revelation comes in an inept story on state Fiji Broadcasting which has Russia promising the 500 Fijian soldiers on the Golan Heights full support in Syria. Russia backs and arms the Bashar Hafez al-Assad regime which is being opposed by an array of rebel groups.  


Bainimarama threatens diplomat

A top New Zealand diplomat who died last year has left behind a sharply undiplomatic book revealing how Fiji’s military strongman personally threatened “to get him” and describes the regime as one characterised by intimidation and thuggery.  Michael Green in 2009 became the first New Zealand diplomat to be declared persona non grata when coup leader Voreqe Bainimarama ordered him out as high commissioner. Green, who died last year of cancer, writes of the secret advice he was giving Wellington during the 2006 democracy ending military coup.  


Radio New Zealand National

Fiji's new constitution; and tuna fishing and the exploitation of the fishing boat crews.



Professional sport - the new blackbirding?

 There are just two million Polynesians in the world and for that reason their young powerful men have become sport’s hottest global commodity. American football, rugby, rugby league and even sumo are clamouring after the large and muscular that is the typical Polynesian man. What was 20 years back politely described as the “browning” of Auckland’s white club rugby now looks like high-edge blackbirding; rather than Queensland’s cane fields, its global stadia. “Pacific Islanders have become the most prodigious and prevalent ethnic group of rugby sports migrants globally,” says Peter Horton of James Cook University in Australia.   


Facing the witch burners in PNG

Philip Gibbs, Catholic priest once of Lower Hutt, was last week celebrating Sunday's second Mass at the new Mount Hagen Holy Trinity Cathedral in Papua New Guinea. A 1000 people took part. Days earlier many of them had burnt a witch to death. Right in the city market people had tortured 20-year-old mother Kepari Leniata into confessing that she had used sorcery to kill a six-year-old child. Then they dowsed her in petrol and burnt her as dozens photographed her end. Two older women, trussed up and waiting to be set alight, were rescued by police. Leniata death in the Western Highland's Mt Hagen, pop 40,000 and PNG's third city, was only unusual because so many were present and with cameras and mobile phones.


Sanford admit their Indonesian crews underpaid

One of the country's biggest fishing companies has confessed its low wage Indonesian fishermen on foreign charter fishing vessels have been underpaid, leaving nearly 100 of the world's poorest workers short $885,000 on current vessels. But one of the key advocates for cleaning up the industry, says that the total underpayments, across the industry, could reach $13 million. Auckland based Sanford Fisheries accuses say it was the fault of Indonesian labour agent PT Indah Megah Sari covered up the fact that the money was not reaching the men "because the amounts paid to the families by manning agents were shown as having been signed off by the families." They were not and no one knows where the money went. 


Commonwealth diplomat critical of media

Former foreign minister and Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon has slammed media for the way they covered one of Fiji's coups. In an autobiography out next month, In the Ring, McKinnon defends his role in the 2000 coup in which now-convicted traitor George Speight seized politicians, including Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, and held them hostage in Fiji's Parliament for 56 days.  


Murder in Paradise - Tokelau's mystery

A man has died violently in what his widow claims is the first murder ever on New Zealand’s remote and little visited South Pacific colony of Tokelau. Malia Niu Koloi, who was with her husband Iona Koloi for 15 minutes as he died, says customary leaders known as the‘‘grey hairs’’ are covering up the death at 2am on November 8. “Everyone standing around me told me it was a fall from a balcony of three metres or so high,” she says.

 “But (there was) the pool of blood around his head, blood from his ears and mouth. When we finally got to the hospital the left side of his face was deeply grazed, a black eye and a hole near his temple.”  


From the files...

Darkness on Tokelau

It was 36 degrees when Iosua Faamaoni began to hector his audience inside the airless meeting room. A big man, dressed in white with a bold blood red cross on his tie, he chilled all. Speaking in Tokelauan, with veins in his neck pumping, he provided his own brief translation, but it bore little relation to what he said. Full of anger and blame, he spoke of loving one’s neighbor, like it was a necessary evil rather than a pleasure. Faamoani is pastor of the Congregational Christian Church on Atafu, Tokelau’s northern atoll.

Man with a past - interview with a massacre survivor

At 83 years of age Kabunare Koura still manages to cut toddy although he laughs that it is no longer from the high coconut trees any more. Life is good, he says sitting in a small traditional house on Bairiki Islet in Kiribati's Tarawa Atoll, and he is happy with his nine children, 20 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

"The past is gone."





On Amazon Kindle

It was around 5pm on Betio, an islet the size of a small city park, an islet of an obscure Pacific atoll called Tarawa. Several hundred Micronesian people – ‘Gilbertese’ to their earlier colonial master – lived under the new rule of the imperial Japanese forces. It had never been benign, and certainly not on this day; it was intolerably hot and oppressive as the Doldrums pressed down.

Mikaera –like most locals he needed no second name – looked across the flat, mostly sand ground to where there were white men, standing in a line. He recognised one of the old man, a long retired master mariner Isaac Handley.

“They are going to kill us all, be brave lads,” Mikaera heard Handley say to the others with him. “One Japanese stepped forward to the first European in the line and cut his head off,” Mikaere recounted later. “Then I saw a second European have his head cut off and I could not see the third one because I fainted.” A Japanese marine held his samurai sword up against young Joe Parker’s neck. He swung, missed and instead of decapitating Parker, he died from a slash from his neck to his armpit. That afternoon, 22 young New Zealand men and three others died in accordance with the Japanese military code of Bushido, by the sword. It was a ritual slaughter that went unnoticed and unknown for decades, but for one of the victims. A shy man with a speech impediment, soldier Charles Owen, should not really have been there. His older brothers had been in the Great War and they always looked after young Charles. Nineteen weeks after that afternoon on Betio, one of Charles’ brothers, Corporal Jack Owen, was confronting Japanese prisoners-of-war in a camp at Featherston, north of Wellington in New Zealand. What happened was slipped into history as a riot; a lie used to cover-up what really happened. Jack Owen, a guard at the camp, had simply turned his sub-machine gun on a group of Japanese in front of him. Other guards opened fire too, but most of the 48 unarmed Japanese fell to bullets fired by Owen. “There had been no order given to fire and no order to cease fire,” Second Lieutenant Keith Robertson said. “It was all over in a moment except that one soldier with a lust for blood searched in among the huts for any Japanese who may have been hiding. He found one poor scared individual hiding in his hut and promptly blew his brains out.” After the war, a six-year-old girl came to live with Jack Owen. Her name was Charlotte and her father, it was said, was Charles Owen, a man murdered by the Japanese on Tarawa. She grew up with the family secret; older brother Jack had taken revenge. “Yes, “ she said, “Uncle Jack was the man. The whole family knew, but it was never really spoken of.”

On Amazgon Kindle


Coming early 2014...






* Full File: Slave fishing in NZ waters


Swimming with Sharks


Worth reading from around the Pacific web...


Rare USAF C-17 landing marks renewed Pacific focus

A big Air Force C-17 cargo jet flew over Mililani on Monday toward the Wai­anae Range, banked in a tight turn and came in for the first landing in at least a decade — or maybe ever — at Wheeler Army Airfield, officials said.

Math Surprise: Remote Islanders Invented Binary Number System

The natives of a remote Polynesian Island invented a binary number system, similar to the one used by computers to calculate, centuries before Western mathematicians did, new research suggests.


Travel mentality takes over in Islands

In the development world of Pacific governments, NGOs, and donor agencies, overseas travel is little discussed but frequently undertaken. The list of conferences, workshops, program reviews, and trainings seems to multiply each year such that mid-level managers and politicians are able to spend close to half the year on the road — and frequently do.


Samoan woman loses 100lbs, becomes triathlete

Talofa! My name is Sia Figiel. I am a single parent to 2 sons. I have been medically severely obese my entire adult life. I have also been living with diabetes for the last decade. This is my story. 


Indian view of curious climate case

Times of India on the the curious case of Ioane Teitiota should be taken note of by policymakers across the globe.


German view of Kiribati climate refugee

A family of eight from Kiribati is waiting for a decision on their fate as New Zealand's first climate change refugees. The case is being watched internationally as a possible landmark in refugee law.


Growing militarisation of Antarctica?

An Australian think tank questions the nature of some of the activities in Antarctica and wonders if Canberra is being left behind.


MP questions worth of global warming money

Of the $45 million granted to Samoa by the Global Environment Facility for environmental projects, very little of it has been spent on "tangible outcomes", an oppostion MP has told the Samoa Observer.


Fa'alavelave, food and fuss

Lani Wendt Young

Samoan funerals. Equal lots and lots of food. Staggering piles of styro-foam containers that leak their pungent juice all over your puletasi as you carry them back to your car.

Read on at the Samoa Observer.



To walk under palm trees

Germans in Samoa

The Museum of Samoa has launched a major online exhibition on the German colonial period in Samoa. Curated by Auckland researcher and writer Tony Brunt in collaboration with the Museum, it tells the story of German-Samoan families and individuals in the turbulent 20th century through over 80 carefully-restored and captioned family photographs. Museum of Samoa


NZ recognizes the late Imi Ah Mu

The New Zealand High Commissioner Jackie Frizelle today presented the New Zealand Defence Service Medal to the family of Imi Ah Mu, who served in the New Zealand navy from 1947. Talamua.com


Big enough for all of us: Geo-Strategic competition in the Pacific Island

Jenny Hayward-Jones, Lowy Institute.

China's growing engagement in the Pacific Islands has fueled talk of great-power competition in the region.  But viewing China's activities in the region in geo-strategic terms is inappropriate and potentially counter-productive.  Australia and the United States should focus on cooperating with China in aid and investment activities that support Pacific Island development priorities rather than building new security arrangements designed to compete with or manage China. Lowy Institute






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