Herbert Ford, 559-592-0980, 559-732-0313.
"MUTINEER" ISLAND ISN'T LOOKING FORWARD TO THE START OF THE NEW YEAR.
ANGWIN (Napa County) Calif., January 5, 2000—The handful of descendants of mutineers on remote Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific Ocean aren’t enthusiastic about the arrival of the new century.
The reason? With Year 2000's arrival they will be facing economic hardship that could hasten the day they may have to abandon their island home.
Since 1790, when sailors who mutinied against Captain William Bligh on H.M.S. Bounty began using Pitcairn as a hideout from British justice, the tiny island, located half-way between Panama and New Zealand, has been inhabited. Now, some of the islanders fear that large cost of living increases coming with the new year will force them to leave.
Island and government reports reaching the Pitcairn Islands Study Center on the campus of Pacific Union College here note that the cost of electricity for the island’s 50 inhabitants will more than double, and freight costs for supplies will become almost prohibitive as the new year starts.
It all comes about, say British government officials, because the island’s subsidy fund, based on the sale of Pitcairn stamps, is running dry. In the past the fund has provided helpful subsidies for a number of high-cost needs like utilities, travel to New Zealand for medical card and the ever-increasing cost of bringing supplies to the island.
Officials say that the island fund is expected to run dry in three years. Cost of living help for the island’s poorest will then have to come from other British government sources. Pitcairn is the world’s smallest British protectorate.
Although there are plans to provide all-weather surfacing to Pitcairn’s main road, and to construct a STOL (short take-off and landing) airstrip on the island, some islanders don’t see how they will be able to survive the more-than-double electrical rate hike, and paying the full cost of supply transportation that is coming.
The electrical rate hike may doom a budding industry in dehydrated island fruits and island-produced honey. Some Pitcairners have ordered propane heaters in hope of controling cooking costs, but the enormous cost of shipping of supplies to the island is seen as an almost insurmountable barrier.
Government officials respond to the problem by stating that those most in need will still get some subsidy help, but the islanders wonder how such need will be determined since all on the island live near or below what is considered the “poverty level” of the civilized world.
The control of land on Pitcairn, long held by individuals, most of whom are direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers, also is slated for future government control. The reason given for this change in island life is that the government will be better able to care for the upkeep of absentee landlord properties, a number of former residents who continue to hold title to land on the island having moved abroad.