13 July 2012

Tuvalu is getting a strong message from the United States House Foreign Affairs committee that the recent addition of 22 Iranian ships to its shipping register is “profoundly disappointing”, that  “given the close and cooperative relationship that our two governments now enjoy, it would be unfortunate if this action were permitted to stand”.

That should be a persuasive message to a county that is dependent on foreign aid, where the land area doubles at low tide, and the security of whose extensive economic zone from whence its revenue from fishing licensing is derived, relies on the good will of countries like Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

One of the ironies of South Pacific governments is that the pronounced Christian perspectives of their leaders are as subordinated to realpolitik as any of their 19th century European counterparts. The third and fourth clauses in the Preamble of the Tuvalu’s Constitution acknowledges …. “God as the Almighty and Everlasting Lord and giver of all good things”, under whose good providence and blessing its people place themselves, and constitute their State… “based on Christian principles, the Rule of Law, and Tuvaluan custom and tradition”.

The commitment to the Constitution may be queried when Tuvalu will reflag Iranian tankers so the vessels can acquire insurance and continue trading.  Concerted action by much of the international community to enforce Iran to respect the rule of law is being undermined by Tuvalu’s opportunism.

Although legislation for a shipping register was enacted in 1987, only with Iran’s need to evade sanctions, have ships of any consequence been registered.  Flags of convenience, and equally dubious banking regimes are seldom resources of integrity rich administrations.

Tuvalu’s fiscal precariousness has led it down a similar path on numerous occasions.  Independent since 1978, it immediately invested in the Nevada desert in the belief that it was getting onto the bottom rung of a housing boom; it then expanded its philatelic agency to meet the aspirations of a US marketer and in the process destroyed its long established reputation (for Ellice Islands stamps); it sold off its telephone area code for international pornography calls in the 1980s, then its internet url  “.TV”, and now, ship registration.

Its disregard for United States concerns is ironical. A current revenue scheme is selling silver dollars. The top selling coin features the USS Constitution, launched by President George Washington in 1797, and still “in service” as the oldest vessel in the US Navy.

Constitution had the role of protecting American ships from Barbary pirates.  Iran could be regarded as the equivalent pirate state today.