Nuku’alofa-July 3: 12.20pm (TDN): Lands Minister Lord Ma’afu says he will propose to Fiji that Tonga gets the Lau Group in return for Minerva Reef.
Lord Ma’afu, the Noble of Vaini here on Tongatapu, made the comments in an interview with Tonga Daily News here in Nuku’alofa.
He said the row over Minerva Reef on ownership by the two countries was not good for relations.
“It is not good for our relations,” Lord Ma’afu, who is named after Ma’afu, the Tongan Prince who waged war on parts of Lau and claimed them for Tonga years ago, said.
“We are closely related and our history dates back a long, long time.
“So in good faith I will propose to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Fiji that they can have Minerva Reef and we get Lau in return.”
Lord Ma’afu said Tonga and Lau have a long standing history.
“We have a lot of our own people with Lauan ancestory and a lot of Lauans with Tongan ancestory,” he said.
Tonga and Fiji have had some heated issues on the ownership of the reef.
Minerva Reefs were claimed by Tonga in 1972 after the shadowy US Phoenix Foundation shipped in dirt and declared it a republic.
The late King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV loaded a ferry with soldiers, a convict work detail and a four-piece brass band and sailed the 500 kilometres to personally haul down the “Republic of Minerva” flag.
As he raised his own banner, he declared it a Tongan island.
The reefs have taken on more significance as their possession gives rights to lucrative undersea minerals.
South Korean, Chinese and Australian interests are seeking prospecting rights in the area.
The Pacific Forum recognised Tonga’s annexation of Minerva in 1972 but Fiji has not formally accepted it.
In 2005 Fiji lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority concerning Tonga’s claim over the reef.
No comment could be obtained last night from Fiji’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, who is in Korea.
However, Fiji’s Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Amena Yauvoli told The Fiji Times last night the ministry would just have to wait for the Tongan Government’s proposal.
The reef is actually a group of two submerged atolls named after the whaling ship Minerva that wrecked there in 1829.
The North and South Minerva reefs are used as anchorages by yachts travelling between New Zealand and Tonga or Fiji and is reportedly an excellent place for scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing.
North Minerva offers the more protected anchorage while South Minerva is shaped similar to an infinity symbol, with its eastern lobe partially open to the ocean on the northern side.