Closed tuna cannery in American Samoa transferred to Tri Marine International

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Closed tuna cannery in American Samoa to reopen

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — Chicken of the Sea International has transferred its closed tuna cannery in American Samoa to Bellevue, Wash.-based Tri Marine International.

A statement from the office of Gov. Togiola Tulafono said the deal was reached Tuesday in Honolulu following two days of discussions. Financial terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.

The COS Samoa Packing plant was closed Sept. 30, 2009, costing the jobs of more than 2,000 workers in the U.S. territory.

Before departing American Samoa last Friday for the discussions, Tulafono told reporters it could take six months to get the plant up and running again.

The territory was involved in the talks because it owns the land where the plant is located.

As part of the agreement, Chicken of the Sea terminated its land lease, which was to have run for three more years, and the territory and Tri Marine signed a new lease agreement, the statement said.

The government of American Samoa is also providing Tri Marine a tax exemption, but it’s unclear how much.

Tri Marine President and CEO Renato Curto told the Samoa News that operating the cannery represents a “big challenge, a major challenge for us.”

The goal is to produce very high-quality tuna and bring it to the U.S. market, he said.

Asked how many workers the company is looking hire, Curto said, “It’s very difficult to say” and “We don’t want to raise expectations.”

When Chicken of the Sea pulled out of American Samoa last year, it cited a 2007 federal law that mandated annual minimum wage hikes in the territory until the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was reached. The law was also cited by StarKist Co. in its decision to lay off 800 workers at its cannery this year.

The latest 50-cent hike was to have taken effect last Thursday, bringing the minimum wage for cannery workers to $5.26 an hour. But at the last minute, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill delaying implementation of the wage hike in American Samoa this year and next.

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