Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Marshall Islands nixes location of Taiwanese dry dock

AFP , MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS

The Marshall Islands Environ-mental Protection Authority (EPA) has turned down plans for the biggest foreign investment the country has been offered by rejecting a Taiwanese company's proposal for a US$20 million floating dry dock.

The authority said the intended location near the urban center of the capital Majuro was not appropriate.

The ruling issued Friday recommended Ching Fu Shipbuilding Co. Ltd seek an alternative site in the central Pacific nation, but there was no immediate response from the company.

The government had backed the dry-dock proposal for its job-creation opportunities in a country of high unemployment, and because it would make the Marshall Islands the focus of the fishing industry in the region.

"It will be an economic boon for the Marshall Islands," Resources and Development Minister John Silk said.

Ching Fu had argued the proposed site was the most suitable for the football-field size facility designed to service the large number of Taiwanese and other fishing vessels using purse seine fishing nets in the region.

The Marshall Islands is one of six Pacific nations that have diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Aside from being the biggest foreign investment offered to this nation of 55,000, Ching Fu said it would generate more than US$11 million annually for the country, about 11 percent of the gross domestic product.

The government's port authority had already signed a lease giving Ching Fu access to land adjacent to the proposed location, and in his state of the nation address last January, Marshall Islands President Kessai Note said the dry-dock would be in Majuro by May this year.

But government officials did not count on Ching Fu's plan generating vehement opposition from nearby hotel operators and residents, and in March Ching Fu was told to file an environmental impact assessment.

In ruling against the plan, the EPA said its only reason was that the location, near two hotels, scuba dive operations and residences, was not appropriate.

"It is in the mutual interest of EPA, other Marshall Islands government offices and Ching Fu to have this project proceed, though not at the expense of other commercial and social activities," the decision, issued by EPA general manager John Bungitak, said.

Resources and Development Minister John Silk said before the decision was released that he did not want the Marshall Islands to project an image "of being unfriendly to foreign investors because they come from Asia.

"This is really the first time where a foreign company is putting its own money into an investment in the Marshall Islands. I'd hate to see a serious investment lost because of prejudice that over-shadows all other issues."

Silk said one of the overriding issues for the government was job creation.

"Our goal is to get as many people as possible on the payroll. Sixty percent of our youth are unemployed and lack skills," he said.

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