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Using drones illegally is a matter of national security, warns Police Minister

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – 24 NOVEMBER 2022: The Minister for Police, Faualo Harry Schuster said he would have ordered two American tourists be detained and investigated for the use of a drone without a proper license.

The pair caught local attention when they filmed tik-tok video clips at Anita’s Beach Fale at Lalomanu using a drone, without proper clearance by the beach owner and using a drone without a license.

When confronted by a villager, the tourists turned the issue around to highlight “overcharging” of tourists by the traditional land owners which potentially damaged Samoas efforts to revive tourism after a two years lockdown.

The Police Minister emphasized that using drones illegally is a matter of national security for Samoa.

“It is not only a concern for the security of the country and her people, but also for airplanes,” said Faualo. In fact a pilot of a local commercial flight had reported a drone close by when he was flying in from neighbouring American Samoa.

Minister Faualo Harry Schuster
Minister Faualo Harry Schuster

The Minister of Police, Faualo Harry Schuster

Slow action by the officials
The drone incident only came to public attention when the owner of the Anita’s Beach Fales responded to a complaint by the tourists on how “expensive it was to enter a beach in Samoa.”

The video clip by one of the tourists said they could not believe they had to pay $50 just to enter the beach.

However, the owner clarified that the tourists did not stay at her accommodation but only came in to use it to film a Tik-Tok video using a drone so she told them to pay more.

Other filmmakers in the country who paid to film at some Beach Fales previously have stepped in to support the owner.

One filmmaker said these tourists were making money from these tik-toks, are paid more to travel to Samoa and are only paying small change to the beach operators, and yet they complain.

When the media questioned the police about the issue two days later, the Deputy Police Commissioner, Papalii Monalisa Keti said they have not received any complaint.

Meanwhile, the tourists with the drone were on their way out given the rising attention from the interaction against them on social media.

The owner of the rental car they used found out they were departing Samoa when he spotted them and the rental car at Faleolo airport and then got paid the rental balance owed.

The two men were reported doing the same thing, filming tik-tok videos in Tonga the day after they departed Samoa.

Meanwhile, the police Minister got hold of the details of the issue only too late.

“If I had known that was the case, I would have ordered the police to detain them and conduct a full investigation,” said Faualo.

The Regulator, Lematua Gisa Fuatai Purcell
The Regulator, Lematua Gisa Fuatai Purcell

The Regulator, Lematua Gisa Fuatai Purcell.

Regulator did not approve the tourists drone
The Regulator, Lematua Fuatai Gisa Purcell confirmed that her office did not approve a license for these tourists to operate a drone when in Samoa.

“We have not issued a frequency license for drones to any tourists in the last 7 weeks,” she said.

She said all drones that are brought into Samoa must be the type approved by the Regulator before they can apply for a license as stipulated under the Telecommunication Act 2005.

According to the Regulator, there are two licenses needed.

One is the license to operate issued by MWIT with conditions on how high it should go and the distance of operation from any airport, and the other is the frequency license issued by the Regulator also with conditions.

American tik tokers
American tik tokers

The American tik tokers left Samoa to do the same thing in Tonga.

The Ministry of Works, Infrastructure & Transport (MWIT) also confirmed not issuing such a license.

She said companies that import drones into Samoa always bring their drones into the Regulator Office to be type approved so they can apply for a frequency license including Government drones.

“If they do not apply for a frequency license then they are stealing from the Government,” she said.

The Regulator agrees with the beach fale owners especially when the tourists did not stay there but wanted to pay peanuts to the family.

“It should be a village rule not to allow such tourists to do that, especially when they tarnish Samoa’s name,” said the Regulator.

Following the incident, the Samoa Tourism Authority (STA) released a statement regarding the incident and their strategy plan to ensure such incidents do not happen again.

The release however came too late for the police to act on the Beach Fale owners’ complaint.

Lalomanu Beach
Lalomanu Beach

The picturesque Lalomanu Beach that some tik tokers assume its free to access.