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Three men rescued off island due to beach ‘HELP’ sign



Three men were rescued by the US Coast Guard off an island in Micronesia after they sent out a plea for “HELP” using palm tree leaves.

They spelled out “HELP” with the leaves, which led to the rescue nine days after they left on a sailing trip.

They had been reported missing after failing to return from a journey to Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited coral island about 415 miles (667km) from Guam.

It is the second time in four years people were rescued from the island.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the three experienced mariners, all unnamed men in their 40s, had embarked on their sailing trip from Polowat Atoll – an island that is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

They departed on Easter Sunday for Pikelot Atoll, about 115 miles (185km) away, in a traditional 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard added.

After failing to return, a relative of the men alerted the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles were missing, sparking a search and rescue mission.

First responders were initially searching an area that was more than 78,000 square nautical miles in poor weather conditions. But then they spotted the men from the air – thanks to the makeshift “HELP” sign.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, who led the search and rescue mission the day they were located.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.

Coast Guard personnel then airdropped survival packages and a radio to the men while a US Coast Guard vessel made its way to the island.

The mariners later radioed back and said they were in good health and had access to food and water, the US Coast Guard said.

They also had recovered their skiff, which sustained damage that rendered it non-functional, and said they needed help getting back to Polowat.

After departing on their voyage on 31 March, the sailors were officially rescued off the island on 9 April.

The US Coast Guard said the rescue is an example of the strong coordination between the US and the Federal States of Micronesia, as well as US Navy personnel who are stationed in the area.

Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consists of some 600 tiny islands scattered over a vast ocean expanse.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commodore Christine Igisomar, who was also part of the search and rescue mission.

Though uninhabited, Pikelot Atoll is often temporarily visited by hunters and fishermen. It has also been the site of another rescue in recent years.

In 2020, three Micronesian mariners were saved – by the Australian Defence Force – after spelling out “SOS” on the beach.

Source: BBC and RNZ

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French President Emmanuel Macron lands in Nouméa amid unrest



French president Emmanuel Macron has landed in Nouméa.

The French Ambassador to the Pacific Véronique Roger-Lacan was on the flight.

“The unrest in New Caledonia is absolutely unacceptable,” Roger-Lacan told RNZ Pacific in an interview on 22 May at 12.20am (NZT).

She had just arrived back from Caracas where she represented France at this week’s UN seminar on decolonisation.

“As far as the French state is concerned, our door is open, we are welcoming everyone for dialogue, in Paris or in Nouméa. It’s up to everyone to join further dialogue,” Roger-Lacan said.

Roger-Lacan said the unrest had been provoked by very specific parts of the Caledonia establishment.

She said she made a plea for dialogue at the United Nations decolonisation seminar in light of the deadly protests in New Caledonia.

“Well, what I want to say is that the Nouméa agreement has enabled everyone in New Caledonia to have a representation in the French national assembly and in the Senate,” Roger-Lacan said.

“And it is up to all the parties, including the independentists, who have some representatives in the National Assembly and in the Senate, to use their political power to convince everyone in the National Assembly and in the parliament.

“If they don’t manage, it is [an] amazingly unacceptable way of voicing their concerns through violence.”

While the French government and anti-independence leaders maintain protest organisers are to blame for the violence, pro-independence parties say they have been holding peaceful protests for months.

They say violence was born from socio-economic disparities and France turning a deaf ear to the territorial government’s call for a controversial proposed amendment to be scrapped.

Roger-Lacan said while ‘everyone’ was saying this unrest was called for because they were not listened to by the French state, France stands ready for dialogue.

She said just because one group failed to ‘use their political power to convince the assembly and the senate’, it did not justify deadly protests.

The delegation

A long-time journalist reporting on Pacific issues says the composition of the French President’s delegation to New Caledonia will anger pro-independence leaders.

Islands Business correspondent Nic Maclellan said Macron would be accompanied by the current overseas minister Gérald Darmanin and armed forces minister Sébastien Lecornu.

“They will no doubt be welcomed by supporters of the French republic, anti-independence politicians who want to stay with France but Lecornu and Darmanin have been responsible for key decisions taken over the last three or four years that have lead to this current crisis,” Maclellan said.

President Macron has said the main objective of the trip is to resume political talks with all stakeholders and find a political solution to the crisis.

United Nations

This year Véronique Roger-Lacan represented France at the table at a seminar which took place in the lead up to the Committee in New York in June.

The right to self determination is a constitutional principle in the French constitution as much as it is in the UN Charter, Roger-Lacan explained.

The meeting she has just been at in Caracas, “prepares a draft, UN General Assembly resolution, that is being examined in the committee, which is called the C 24,” she said.

Roger-Lacan was appointed to the role of French ambassador to the Pacific in July last year.

Various groups have been calling for the United Nations to head a delegation to New Caledonia to observe the current situation.

Roger-Lacan said the New Caledonia coalition government representative and the FLNKS representative both called for a UN mission at the meeting.

“Then there were five representatives of the loyalists and they all made the case of the fact that a third referenda had in compliance with the two UN General Assembly resolutions determined the future status of New Caledonia,” she said.

As the representative of the French state, she made the case that France has always been the only administrative power to sit in the C24, “and to negotiate and cooperate,” she said.

“The United States, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom never did that,” Roger-Lacan said.

She also welcomed the UN, “whenever they want to visit”, she said.

“That’s the plea that I made on behalf of the French government, a plea for dialogue.”

Source: RNZ

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French-operated flight to evacuate next group of New Zealanders from New Caledonia



A French-operated flight will bring stranded New Zealanders to Brisbane, with a New Zealand Defence Force flight arranged for the travel from Brisbane to New Zealand.

The French flight is due to depart Tontouta Airport at 6pm NZ time with 49 Kiwis on board.

The flight from Brisbane to Auckland is due to arrive at Auckland International Airport at 1am NZ time.

MFAT said it was still working with French and Australian authorities on logistics.

Around 10pm last night a Defence Force flight completed the first mercy mission, landing in Auckland with 48 New Zealanders on board.

MFAT said 260 New Zealanders remain and are hoping to leave Noumea (of the 274 NZers in New Caledonia registered on Safetravel).

It is believed that in total there would have been at least 371 NZers in New Caledonia when the conflict erupted.

It has claimed six lives while millions of dollars in damages has been caused to businesses and infrastructure.

French President Emmanuel Macon is due to arrive in New Caledonia this evening.


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Russia starts exercise to simulate launch of tactical nuclear weapons



Russian forces have started the first stage of exercises ordered by President Vladimir Putin to simulate preparation for the launch of tactical nuclear weapons, the Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Moscow has linked the exercises to what it calls “militant statements” by Western officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, which it said created security threats for Russia.

Nuclear analysts say the exercises are designed as a warning signal by Putin to deter the West from wading more deeply into the war in Ukraine. Western countries have provided weapons and intelligence to Kyiv but have refrained from sending troops.

The Defence Ministry said the first stage of the exercise involved Iskander and Kinzhal missiles.

It is aimed at ensuring that units and equipment are ready for “the combat use of non-strategic nuclear weapons to respond and unconditionally ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Russian state in response to provocative statements and threats of individual Western officials against the Russian Federation”, the ministry said.

The drills involve missile forces in Russia’s Southern Military District, which lies adjacent to Ukraine and also includes parts of Ukraine that Russia now controls.

Belarus, where Russia said last year it was deploying tactical nuclear weapons, will also be involved, the two countries have said.

Tactical, or non-strategic, nuclear weapons are less powerful than the strategic arms designed to wipe out whole enemy cities, but they nevertheless have vast destructive potential.

Some Western analysts believe non-strategic nuclear weapons have acquired greater importance in Moscow’s thinking since the start of the war in Ukraine, where its conventional forces struggled in the first two years.

In theory, the use of such a weapon could deliver a stunning shock to the West without necessarily triggering a full-blown nuclear war, though the risk of triggering a cycle of escalation would be huge.

‘Special ammunition’

Russia has about 1558 non-strategic nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists, although there is uncertainty about exact figures. They are controlled by the Russian Defence Ministry’s 12th Main Directorate, known as 12th GUMO.

The ministry said troops were practising obtaining “special ammunition” – meaning nuclear warheads – for Iskander missiles, equipping launch vehicles with them and “covertly advancing to the designated position in preparation for missile launches”.

It said aviation units were also practising the fitting of special warheads to Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, and flying into designated patrol areas.

Video released by the ministry showed missiles being transported in a convoy of military vehicles and placed in position ready for firing.

“The exercises are, obviously, a signal in response to discussion of NATO countries’ troops in Ukraine. The most important features are advance announcement and visibility,” Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet and Russian arms control official, told Reuters.

Western militaries will be watching the exercises closely and seeking to draw conclusions about how much warning time they would have if Russia deployed such weapons for real, he said.

“The involvement of 12th GUMO can produce insights into how much time the release of warheads takes, how well detectable, how much warning,” said Sokov, a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

The involvement of Kinzhal, he said, was “a new element I did not expect to see”, although there was no doubt about its capability to carry both nuclear and conventional warheads.

When Putin ordered the drills this month, Russia’s Foreign Ministry linked them to comments by France’s Macron, who floated the possibility of sending European troops to fight Moscow in Ukraine, and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, who said Kyiv had the right to use weapons provided by London to strike targets inside Russia. It also cited the provision of long-range British, French and U.S. ATACMS missiles to Kyiv.

The Foreign Ministry said on 6 May the exercises should send a “sobering signal” to the West and its “puppets” in Ukraine.

“We hope these drills will cool the hot heads in Western capitals,” it said, adding the West should realise “the potential catastrophic consequences of the strategic risks they are generating” and stop short of direct military confrontation with Russia.

Source: Reuters and RNZ

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