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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 39

Central Pacific Edition

Marshall Islands: The Big Trade

Excerpts from “My Return to Majuro”

It was the spring of 1989. I commanded the Navy salvage ship USS Brunswick at the time based out of Sasebo, Japan. Our assignment: SurvOps: TTPI. SurvOps was the Navy acronym for surveillance operations. TTPI was a political entity called the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. TTPI was a United Nations construct that established a protectorate of the far flung central and western Pacific Islands under the administration of the United States in 1947. American stewardship of this trust was accomplished through political channels and with a physical presence, often taking the form of a transiting U.S. naval vessel. We were going there to ensure that the islands were secure and not being re-militarized by any foreign government or that foreign fishing vessels had not taken up a permanent presence or infringed on the fishing resources.

Next stop … Majuro. This was the capital of the Republic. We were arriving from the nearby island of Jaluit where we had cleared a wreck from a pier, opening the way for commercial traffic. We were now in Majuro to get cleaned up, re-stow gear and get ready to return to Japan. I was greeted in Majuro by the Minister of Transportation. He was delighted with our quick work on that vessel in Jaluit, and thanked us for our efforts. I assured him that it was a pleasure on behalf of the Navy to be of service. At that point, he pulls out a folded piece of paper…it was a list. On it were 8 more projects, in or around Majuro much like the job in Jaluit. The Minister asked if we would consider doing any one of these, he would be extremely happy. I took the list. They were all vessel strandings or sinkings inside the commercial basin, all visible from our ship except one. The last job was on a neighboring island. I said that I will take the list and get as far as I could in the three days we had to re-stow our gear and get ready to return to Japan. We already knew how to clear a wreck from a pier in 10 minutes. We accomplished all 7 removal s in two days. About that last job. This one was a personal favor from the President. He asked that we send a boat to the neighboring island of Arno. These two islands are close but like two horseshoes with the open ends opposite each other. A boat channel existed in Majuro near Arno, but only a small and dangerous natural pass existed in Arno. Could we possibly lengthen and widen it to eight feet? It just so happens that we have a tool for that. So sure, tell the President we’d be pleased to open up the channel to Arno. It would only take a half a day. After the required safety briefings and some careful calculations a small team of divers departed in the ship’s boat. Maybe it was a lack of supervision or perhaps just too much safety margin, but the anticipated 8 foot boat channel turned out to be a twenty five foot super highway. When the news of our exploits reached the President, he was elated! He personally thanked me and my crew for all the work we had done in the Marshall Islands. He was most pleased with the new safer trading route between the islands. Before our departure, he asked if there was anything he could ever do for me. Well I had a list for him. I have always admired those giant clam shells which grow at great depths in these waters. A golf cart arrived at the ship 30 minutes later with the finest 150 pounds of clam shell I’ve ever seen.

I carried that shell with me for many years. It was when I last told this story to a listener, he expressed his own envy and desire to have a huge shell like that. Whenever someone admires the personal property of another, in the island culture it is good and it is right to give that property to them. I think the President would approve. And to this day I believe that shell resides in Salon, Iowa. Small world.

— Spence King

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