Tsunami hits American Samoa tuna plants


Steven Hedlund

Published on
September 29, 2009

Chicken of the Sea shut down its tuna-packing plant in American Samoa after an undersea 8- to 8.3-magnitude earthquake in the South Pacific triggered a massive tsunami on Wednesday.

The earthquake, centered about 120 miles south of American Samoa, created four 15- to 20-foot tsunami waves that crashed ashore on American Samoa and reached up to a mile inland. At least 99 people are dead in American Samoa and neighboring Samoa, and the toll is expected to climb.

Though it’s closed, Chicken of the Sea’s tuna-packing plant in American Samoa is not damaged, the San Diego-based company told the Associated Press.

Tony Feist of Tuna Support, a Los Angeles-based tuna logistics company owned by Consolidators International, reported via his Twitter account that Chicken of the Sea’s plant was hit by an 8-foot wave, and StarKist’s plant was also struck by a wave and damaged. Feist has been receiving updates from his co-worker, Ziggy Vollrath, who’s based in Pago Pago, American Samoa.

The Chicken of the Sea plant was just days away from closing permanently and laying off more than 2,000 workers due to 2007 legislation that gradually increased American Samoa’s minimum wage until it reached USD 7.25 an hour in July, up from less than USD 4 in 2007. The company opened a plant in Lyons, Ga.

StarKist was also forced to cut production and more than 1,000 jobs at its American Samoa plant last year to cope with the minimum wage hike.

U.S. Rep Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) in mid-September introduced a bill that would provide subsidies to companies that deliver seafood to American Samoa to be processed. The bill is intended to protect the territory’s seafood-processing jobs, as its private-sector economy is more than 80 percent dependent on tuna processing and fishing, according to Faleomavaega.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has declared American Samoa a disaster due to the tsunami.

“I don’t think anybody is going to be spared in this disaster,” American Samoa Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was in Hawaii for a conference, told reporters.

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