Official response from Foreign Affairs on the French Navy ship sent back

The French Navy vessel, D’Entrecasteaux, was refused entry.

With reference to the front page story in yesterday’s edition of the Daily Post, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to convey its deepest apologies to the Teruja School Council and the chiefs, students and people of Aneityum for the unfortunate circumstances the school and its students are currently facing.

The Ministry will do all it can to provide the necessary support to ensure the rehabilitation of Teruja School.

In response to some of the details provided in the news article, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is compelled to make these important clarifications:

Mathew and Hunter Islands remain an integral part of the territorial sovereignty of the Republic of Vanuatu and as such have never been used to leverage support for determining the level of development cooperation between France and Vanuatu.

Because this territorial independence is being disputed by France, the Vanuatu Government warmly welcomed the decision by Paris to agree to hold the first-ever Maritime Boundary Talks in February of last year in Sydney. Both countries have agreed to meet for the second round of negotiations later this month in Brussels.

Because of recent incursions and questionable activities in Vanuatu waters such as the illegal entry of a French patrol boat La Moquese earlier this year – and other classified reasons of which France has full knowledge — the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had requested a deferral of the Operation Castor program to allow both parties the opportunity to discuss these matters of extreme concern at the Brussels Talks — with the purpose being for both parties to develop and agree to a regulatory and binding framework to better manage cooperation in this area – including such visits by Foreign Government vessels.

The total monetary value of the Classrooms Rehabilitation Project for Teruja School on Aneityum as confirmed in the Convention document signed between the two Governments on 9 May 2019 is XPF 4,773,270 (approximately VT5.2 million).

It is not clear where the reported figure of Vt130 million in the article has come from.

Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not manage Operation Castor in Vanuatu, it is a program that the Vanuatu Government fully supports through its close relations with France and New Caledonia under the auspices of Commission Mixte arrangements.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for approving the entry into Vanuatu waters of vessels belonging to Foreign Governments, including naval and military craft.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has in the past allowed the entry of French Navy vessels to undertake surveillance exercises, and other activities such as in the humanitarian sector.

The Government of Vanuatu has mandated the National Committee on the Delimitation of Maritime Boundaries to safeguard the nation’s territorial boundaries and maritime interest, under the leadership of the Chief Negotiator.

In maintaining vigilance on the implementation of the National Oceans Policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will always ensure that foreign vessels meet the requirements of the Oceans Policy Vision of keeping Vanuatu waters ‘Healthy, Clean and Safe’.

The most recent unauthorized entry by the French patrol boat D’Entrecasteaux near Aneityum that purportedly entered Vanuatu waters this week will be another issue that will have to be resolved diplomatically, and in the spirit of good and neighbourly relations between France and Vanuatu.

Relations with the Republic of France will always be of importance to the Republic of Vanuatu.

Both countries have a shared history that has provided a strong platform on which friendly relations and cooperation have grown over the years.

High level exchanges and visits continue to reinforce the strategic interests of both Government in managing common interests.

The appointment of a new Ambassador to the Republic of France is another strong commitment from the Vanuatu Government towards strengthening overall bilateral cooperation and providing for another beneficial line of direct communication between Paris and Port Vila.

(Daily Post would like to clarify that the amount of 1 million Euros (approx. Vt130 million) was quoted by the French Embassy in Port Vila for the whole logistics involved starting last year on scoping trips to the islands of TAFEA and the resources involved in the work yet to be done.)

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