26 November 1997


26 November 1997

Press Release


19971126 Related Texts Seek to Assure Funding of Institutions, Control Of Drift-Net Fishing, Conservation and Management of Certain Stocks

The General Assembly this afternoon called on States to harmonize their national legislation to ensure consistent application of the provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and to strengthen implementation of existing, international and regional agreements on marine pollution.

It took that action by adopting a resolution on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea by a recorded vote of 138 in favour to one against (Turkey), with 4 abstentions (El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) (see Annex).

Further, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to ensure that the Organization adequately responded to the needs of States and new institutions, including the International Seabed Authority, the Tribunal and other competent international organizations, taking into account the needs of developing countries. The Secretary-General was also asked to ensure that in carrying out his responsibilities under the Convention those activities were not adversely affected by the savings under the United Nations approved budget.

Turkey spoke in explanation of vote.

In other action this afternoon, the Assembly approved the 18-article agreement concerning the relationship between the United Nations and the International Seabed Authority and adopted two additional resolutions on the Oceans and the Law of the Sea without a vote.

By the terms of one of them, the Assembly asked the Secretary-General to report to its fifty-fourth session, and biennially thereafter, on further developments in the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks.

It also called on States and entities which had not done so to ratify or accede to the Agreement relating to the conservation and management of those fish stocks.

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In the other resolution adopted this afternoon, the Assembly urged the international community to ensure full compliance with its resolution 46/215 calling for a moratorium on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing, and to impose appropriate sanctions against acts contrary to that resolution. Further, the Assembly called on States to ensure no fishing vessels entitled to fly their national flags, fished in areas under the jurisdiction of other States unless authorized by the coastal States concerned. It urged States, international organizations and regional and subregional fisheries organizations to adopt policies and measures, including assistance to developing countries, collect and exchange data and develop techniques to reduce by-catches, fish discards and post-harvest losses.

Statements were made by Jamaica, on behalf of Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Ukraine, Croatia, China, India, Benin, Viet Nam, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Marshall Islands, Nigeria, Argentina and Uruguay.

China, Viet Nam, Philippines and Malaysia spoke in exercise of the right of reply,

The Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. Monday, 1 December, to consider the question of Palestine.

Assembly Work Programme

The Assembly met this afternoon to continue consideration of Oceans and the Law of the Sea and take action on related draft resolutions. (For further details, see Press Release GA/9364 issued today.)


M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the drafting of a mining code under the International Seabed Authority was at an advanced stage and should be completed by the Authority's next session in Jamaica. The Authority had also approved plans by seven pioneer investors. The CARICOM welcomed the conclusion of a relationship agreement between the Authority Secretariat and the United Nations. Jamaica urged the Assembly to support the Authority's request for membership in the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund when that item came up for consideration.

The Caribbean countries depended on the health of coastal zones for food, recreation and livelihood, she said. They had taken steps to guard against pollution of one of the world's most popular bodies of water and its sensitive marine ecosystems. The debate on the law of the sea in the Assembly ensured that all the Convention's elements and activities were addressed coherently. The International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, the Authority and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf were the main mechanisms for carrying out the Convention's aims. The Assembly debate could assist States parties, particularly developing countries, in conforming with their obligations and maximizing the benefits that could arise from implementing the Convention.

The CARICOM welcomed dialogue on the transfer by sea of hazardous wastes and nuclear fuel, she said. Those were issues of concern to all island and coastal States, which occupied a sensitive and ecologically vulnerable maritime space. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should give due consideration to those concerns. Finally, Jamaica urged all States that have not yet done so to become parties to the Convention and the Agreement.

VOLODYMYR Y. YEL'CHENKO (Ukraine) said the oversight role of the Assembly was expected to assume greater significance with the universal acceptance of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It would be further consolidated by the addition of the new law of the sea institutions to the wider group of international organizations responsible for various specialized aspects of ocean affairs. In the work of the International Seabed Authority, the most significant development during the year was the approval of the plans of work for the exploration of seven registered pioneer investors.

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With the election of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the creation of three institutions mandated by the Convention was now complete, he said. The Commission required advice from the meeting of States parties to the Convention on the following three important issues: how to handle a submission by a coastal State which could involve a delimitation dispute; the issue of confidentiality and the protection of members of the Commission from possible financial liability arising from potential allegations of breach of the rule of confidentiality; and whether the terms "coastal State" and "a State" used in article 4 of Annex II to the Convention included a non-State party to the Convention. His delegation hoped that at their next Meeting the States parties would be able to consider and decide on those important issues.

He said his delegation could not understand the reason for the reduction in the number of posts in the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs. The number of Professional posts had been reduced from 23 to 17, and General Service staff from 13 to 10. Reductions on a similar scale were not proposed in other units of the Legal Office. He asked whether such a marked reduction in staffing was justified and whether the Office of Legal Affairs would be able to sufficiently support the Commission when submissions arrived. The Fifth Committee should consider again the issue of proper staffing in the Office of Legal Affairs.

The national programme for the development of sea and river transportation was about to be adopted, and one of its goals was to improve the national standards for the safety of navigation, he said. Ukraine was also engaged in cooperation with regional fisheries organizations dealing with the conservation of marine living resources. It was also working on a solution to the problem of unregulated fisheries in the Danube River. In the Black Sea region, it undertook practical measures to stabilize the political situation in the area and for the improvement of bilateral cooperation in the field of international security, including maritime affairs, with two of its neighbours -- the Russian Federation and Romania.

IVAN SIMONOVIC (Croatia) said that taking into account the innovative character and the specific features of the tasks of the three institutions, he was satisfied with the pace of progress of the International Seabed Authority, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. He noted that the United Nations and the Tribunal had finalized the draft agreement on the cooperation and relationship between them, which would be signed shortly by the Secretary-General and the President of the Tribunal.

It was up to the States Parties to make the best use of those institutions. He noted that two States parties to the Convention had already agreed to come to the International Tribunal in accordance with the special procedure for the prompt release of vessels. In the activities related to

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exploration, protection and exploitation of ocean space, he believed more attention should be paid to the benefit of mankind as a whole, and particularly to the progress of the least developed countries and the protection of the most endangered parts of the planet, than to short-term cost-effectiveness.

GAO FENG (China) said the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea was the first international judicial organ for the settlement of maritime disputes. The Tribunal's composition reflected all the world's major legal systems and equitable geographical distribution. China was active in the International Seabed Authority, which in August approved the exploration plans submitted by the pioneer investors. Those plans were a milestone in the Authority's history, showing that its work had moved from the procedural and organizational phase to operation management. With the approval of the plan, China became one of the Authority's first contractors. It would continue to take part in the Authority.

China had improved its domestic legislation on the oceans to safeguard the maritime rights and interests of coastal States, he said. In accordance with the Convention, China supported negotiated, peaceful settlement of overlapping claims by neighbouring States with adjacent or opposite coasts over exclusive economic zones or continental shelves. China had begun consultations with the countries concerned on the law of the sea as well as delimitation of the sea area and fishery. Positive results had been achieved. The countries concerned had enhanced the mutual understanding and trust through dialogue.

The Secretary-General's report on the law of the sea contained a mistake. China requested the deletion of the following words from paragraph 264 of the report: "an agreement between China and Japan for joint exploration of and development of an island group in the East China Sea". No such agreement existed. China requested the Secretariat to issue a corrigendum and to include the clarification in the official record of the current session of the Assembly.

KAMALESH SHARMA (India), said that, as a registered pioneer investor, India had been granted approval of a plan of work to explore the seabed mining site in the Indian Ocean which it had registered with the United Nations. Having fulfilled its obligations under the Convention on the Law of the Sea, India was eligible to obtain a contract to explore the site. The first regular budget of the International Seabed Authority was a modest $4.7 million, with a working capital fund of $196,000 in 1998 and a similar amount for 1999. Given that it was start-up time for the Authority, he hoped that assessed contributions would be paid in full, on time and without conditions, by all Member States.

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He said the 1995 Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks was a landmark in implementation of the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Implementation of the Agreement should guarantee enforcement of the rights of coastal States, while taking into account the interests of distant water fishing nations. As envisaged in the Agreement, developing countries should receive technical and financial support to develop their fisheries. India was committed to conserving, managing and protecting Indian Ocean tuna from indiscriminate fishing and depletion or eventual extinction of stocks. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, to which India was a party, was just beginning its functions. Artisan and small-scale fisheries should be protected because of their social, economic and cultural importance, and because they were essentially subsistence rather than commercial in nature.

FASSASSI ADAM YACOUBOU (Benin) said the Law of the Sea Convention was an essential contribution to the codification and management of issues relating to the marine and coastal environments. The new international legal order established by the 1982 Convention would encourage the equitable management of marine resources, which were humanity's common heritage. It would also ensure the promotion of peaceful uses of the oceans and seas. Benin ratified the Convention on the Law of the Sea on 16 October, and it would pursue its efforts to translate its commitment to the Convention into deeds.

He said a workshop on the conservation, protection and management of marine eco-systems in the Gulf of Guinea took place in Cotonou in July. It was co-sponsored by the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the Global Environment Fund. The workshop allowed port and maritime activities, coastal populations, non- governmental organizations and professional organizations to consider all the problems affecting the major ecosystems of the Gulf of Guinea.

NGO QUANG XUAN (Viet Nam) said his country attached great importance to the establishment of the Commission on Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Commission's functions and activities must be in accordance with the stipulations in the Convention. In the draft, the rules dealing with delimitation disputes between States, and the question of the confidentiality and liability of members of the Commission, should be further studied and seriously considered. The international community should heighten the role of the meetings of States parties to the Convention. Serious implementation of the Convention required States to observe strictly the letter and spirit of its provisions and articles. The Convention made it mandatory for States to respect the sovereignty of coastal States, including their rights and jurisdiction over their continental shelf and exclusive economic zone.

Viet Nam had promoted dialogue, cooperation and friendly relations with other countries in the region, he said. It had signed the Agreement of the

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Delimitation of Maritime Boundaries with Thailand and the Agreement on the Second Cruise of Joint Scientific Research in the Eastern Sea with the Philippines. His country had not changed its position on the question of the Eastern Sea, known also as the South China Sea. With regard to territorial claims, Viet Nam had enough historical and legal evidence to assert its undisputable sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratley Islands.

PARK SOO GIL (Republic of Korea) said that in the past year the various institutions established under the Convention had been brought into full- fledged operation. He welcomed the progress of the Legal and Technical Commission in the preparation of the deep seabed mining code that would govern prospecting and exploration in the sea-bed and ocean floor beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. The International Tribunal had also made great strides towards laying the groundwork for judicial functioning.

As a responsible fishing country, he said, the Republic of Korea was firmly committed to sustainable development and use of the living resources of the world ocean. It had done its part to live up to the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the Convention, through the voluntary submission of fishing statistics to relevant organizations, the scientific monitoring and study of marine resources, and the domestic adoption of fishing rules and regulations. It had also complied with the global moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing.

Surrounded by a semi-enclosed sea, he went on, his country strongly upheld the principle of cooperation among the relevant coastal States under the Convention. Successful management of living resources or marine environment in such a semi-enclosed sea required close cooperation among coastal States taking account of the integrity of the sea. In a semi-enclosed sea, any unilateral measure or agreement in disregard of the interests of relevant parties would fail to achieve its intended goal. Given the formidable implication of maritime disputes for international relations, he concluded, the prevention and early settlement of such disputes were crucial for the maintenance of international peace and security.

IGOR K. PANEVKIN (Russian Federation) said this year marked further positive developments on the question of law of the sea, including noteworthy movement by the international community towards a coordinated and integrated approach for solving problems. The Russian Federation this year ratified the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and an agreement on straddling fish stock and highly migratory species. All the necessary requirements of the Convention had now been fulfilled for its effective implementation and the start of a single legal order on the ocean that contributed to world peace and security. His country had consistently advocated an enhanced role for the United Nations Law of the Sea in those activities. That same role was true in relation to the straddling fish stocks and highly migratory species.

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He expressed concern over some countries' subordination of the terms of the Convention for national interests. Russia could not agree with the attempts of some States to unilaterally change and secure their positions on international documents related to the law of the sea. The problems of the ocean were tightly inter-linked and should be considered as a whole. Some international machinery still resolved problems outside of the Law of the Sea Convention, and that was unacceptable. Russia intended to actively participate in developing the peaceful principles and efforts of the Convention.

LAURENCE N. EDWARDS (Marshall Islands) said the item being considered was of great importance to all small island developing States, particularly the Pacific Island countries. Within the past year, his country had taken a proactive approach towards the sustainable development of its fisheries. New fisheries policies and legislation had been introduced, including the Marshall Islands Fisheries Act, which incorporated approaches taken at the international level, particularly in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks. In addition, the Marshall Islands was an active participant in the ongoing, multilateral, high-level consultation process in the Pacific, which had initiated steps towards the establishment of a multilateral management arrangement for the Pacific region, which included the high seas.

He said the Marshall Islands was also nearing completion of its in-zone Fisheries Management Plan which, combined with the Fisheries Act and the National Fisheries Development Plan, demonstrated the country's commitment to implementing the provisions of the Law of the Sea. Sustainable development, conservation and management in the developing countries required a concerted effort by the international community. The Secretary-General had stressed in his report that the level of illegal fishing in the Pacific would decrease with the implementation of a vessel-monitoring system on distant-water nations' fishing vessels. That had been taken very seriously during regional consultations.

He went on to stress the importance of financial and technical support from the international community. In addition, under article 64 of the Law of the Sea Convention, cooperation between coastal States and States which fish in the region are compulsory. That cooperation included ensuring that appropriate meetings, with the full participation of all parties, occurred in a timely manner, and that they were provided with sufficient funding.

ISAAC E. AYEWAH (Nigeria) said that in 1998 the International Seabed Authority budget would become the sole responsibility of its members; only the timely payment of assessed contributions would allow it to continue its activities. The request by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for the establishment of a trust fund for travel expenses and accommodations for developing Member States was noteworthy. The decision to

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hold one annual meeting of States parties was in line with the streamlining of the United Nations and cost-effective.

He said a report of UNEP indicated that a third of the world's coastal areas were at high risk of degradation, particularly from land-based activities. Such unsustainable economic development could lead to food insecurity and conflict situations. Environmental protection and socio- economic development were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

He said Nigeria was concerned that large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing and unauthorized fishing in zones of national jurisdiction and fisheries by- catch and discard persisted. Developing countries did not have the resources to monitor or control those activities or enforce the pertinent regulations. He welcomed efforts of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to organize in 1998 a Technical Consultation on Management Fishing Capacity, which would draft guidelines. He said Nigeria wished to draw attention to industrialized States that dumped toxic and hazardous wastes, especially in the waters of developing States.

JUAN MANUEL GRAMAJO (Argentina) said the process of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which had begun in 1973, was now close to the high point of its endeavour. The goals of that period were now becoming a reality. Argentina, given the length of its coastline and its very southerly geographic position including some of the world's largest marine resources, had to focus on maritime affairs. Maritime issues were even more critical to Argentina because of the River Plata and its basin, which jutted into the Atlantic and provided commercial and maritime services to the region and beyond.

He said Argentina had a keen interest in the Law of the Sea. It had concentrated on the conservation of its living marine resources and had signed an agreement on the conservation of straddling fish stock and highly migratory fish stock to stop exploitation. The legal norms that regulated the sea had a fundamental role in the regulation of international law, because of the increasing tendency towards global interdependence.

JULIO BENITEZ-SAENZ (Uruguay) said the issue was important to his country because of its relevance to Uruguay's economy and geographical location. He spoke of the outstanding work done during the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, and said it was significant that the International Tribunal, established following elections in 1996, had held its first sessions during the past year. In addition, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had begun its work. Most important of all, the International Seabed Authority had approved the plan of work for exploration. Exploitation of the seabed, the common goal of mankind for a long time, was now taking shape. He hoped that the international community would now move into areas of concrete achievement.

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He expressed grave concern over the increasingly frequent transportation of radioactive waste through areas of the high seas close to his country's coastline. It was essential to regulate such maritime transport. The Oslo and Paris Agreements marked progress in that area, and he hoped for further progress during the Lisbon Conference to be held next year.

Explanation of Vote

YESIM BAYKAL (Turkey) said her country would vote against the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea because of some of its provisions. Turkey supported international efforts to establish a regime of law of the sea, but the Convention did not make a provision for specific geographical situations. The Convention made no provisions for reservations on specific clauses and contained a provision that States harmonize their national legislation with the provisions of the Convention of the Law of the Sea.

Action on Drafts

Assembly Vice-President ANDRE MWAMBA KAPANGA (Democratic Republic of the Congo) announced that Cote d'Ivoire, Nepal, Russian Federation and Singapore had become co-sponsors of the draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea, and that Singapore had become a co-sponsor of the draft resolution on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing.

The Assembly then adopted, by a recorded vote of 138 in favour to 1 against (Turkey), with 4 abstentions (Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and Venezuela) the draft resolution on oceans and law of the sea (A/52/L.26).

It then adopted, without a vote, the draft resolution on the agreement concerning the relationship between the United Nations and the International Seabed Authority (A/52/L.27).

Following that action, it also adopted without a vote the draft resolution on the Agreement relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (A/52/L.29).

Finally, the Assembly adopted without a vote the draft resolution on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing (A/52/L.30).

Right of Reply

FENG GAO (China), in right of reply, said that in a statement this morning the representative of Viet Nam had mentioned territories which had been part of China since ancient times, based on practices of exploration and confirmed by the Government of Viet Nam. A peaceful solution regarding the territories should be achieved through bilateral negotiations. China, on the basis of the law of the sea and in accordance with international law, wished

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to resolve the dispute through negotiations which it was currently taking part in. It opposed the internationalization of the issue. Parties to international disputes should abide by international law and not make the issues more complex.

PHAM TRUONG GIANG (Viet Nam) said his country reaffirmed its consistent position regarding the Eastern Sea (South China Sea), and United Nations sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratley Islands.

Disputes must be settled through peaceful negotiations, with respect for each country's sovereignty and jurisdiction over their continental shelves and exclusive economic zones, and in accordance with international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The concerned parties should maintain stability on the basis of the status quo, and refrain from any act that may further complicate the situation or from the use of force or threat of force.

CARLOS D. SORRETA (Philippines) said his country was also a claimant to an area in the South China Sea. Its desire to settle disputes peacefully was driven by the fact that peace and stability were issues in its growth, and it was also aware of the potential for conflict in a region of such diverse cultures. There was no outward manifestation of conflict over the claim and all claimants were members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the future they would, hopefully, be able to sort their problems before coming to the Assembly.

MARZUKI MOHAMMAD NOOR (Malaysia) said he would like to put on record that his country was also a claimant to parts of the Spratley Islands, located in its continental shelf. It was committed to resolving the question of overlapping claims through regional and peaceful means, as contained in the Manila Declaration signed by ASEAN foreign ministers on June 1992.

(annex follows)

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General Assembly Plenary Press Release GA/9365 57th Meeting (PM) 26 November 1997


Vote on Oceans and the Law of the Sea

The draft resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea (document A/52/L.26) was adopted by a recorded vote of 138 in favour to 1 against, with 4 abstentions:

In favour: Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Samoa, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Tajikistan, Thailand, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, United States, Uruguay, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Against: Turkey.

Abstain: Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Venezuela.

Absent: Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gabon, Ghana, Grenada, Jordan, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Palau, Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Seychelles, Suriname, Syria, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu.

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For information media. Not an official record.