Samoa moves into tomorrow

MOVING FORWARD: Samoan Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele, pictured speaking at the United Nations, says the country will move the international dateline east.
MOVING FORWARD: Samoan Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele, pictured speaking at the United Nations, says the country will move the international dateline east.

Samoa is to move into today by shifting the International Dateline to the east.

Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele announced the shift would probably take place on December 29.

It will mean that Samoa will share the same day, rather than being a day behind Australia and New Zealand.

Tuila’epa says there will even be a tourist spin-off due to the fact that Samoa and American Samoa will now be divided by the Dateline.

People wanting two birthdays or two wedding anniversaries came travel to Samoa and have them.

Tuila’epa has already managed to successfully get the country in 2009 to switch from driving on the right hand side of the road to the left, and he has got the country to use daylight savings – with mixed results.

With most expatriate Samoans in Australia and New Zealand, and most business done with Auckland and Sydney, Tuila’epa wants Apia in the same day.

But the problem with his latest plan, if carried out, is that it will leave the New Zealand territory of Tokelau – which is two days sailing north of Samoa – stranded in yesterday, along with American Samoa.

If the New Zealand Government wanted, of course, it too could join the re-drawing of the dateline to get Tokelau into today.

The Prime Minister claimed both Samoas originally lay west of the dateline.

But a local trader convinced Malietoa Laupepa – one of the chiefs who at the time purported to rule Samoa – not to say west but to be east of the dateline so as to convenience ships from Europe and the United States.

''But our trading partners have dramatically changed since and today we do a lot more business with New Zealand and Australia, China and Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore,'' Tuila’epa said.

''In doing business with New Zealand and Australia we’re losing out on two working days a week. While it's Friday here, it’s Saturday in New Zealand and when we’re at church Sunday, they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane.

''On short-notice trips over to New Zealand and Australia, it’s almost impossible to get a visa to New Zealand or Australia after Tuesday.

''We have done a preliminary review of the planned change and there is no feasible reason why we should continue with the current time situation. Things will be much easier, much more convenient if we move back to sharing the same time zone with Australasia.''

The Prime Minister said the change will also be good for tourism.

''If we move the dateline to between here and American Samoa, you can travel between two time zones in less than an hour. So you can have two birthdays, two weddings and two wedding anniversaries on the same date – on separate days – in less than an hour’s flight across – without leaving the Samoan chain.

''We are looking forward to working with American Samoa on capitalising on the sort of tourism this change could generate.''

Moving the dateline would be sad for the tiny village of Falealupo at the western end of Savai’i, the last village in the world to see the sunset of each day. In Samoan tradition, Falealupo is also the entrance to the spiritual underworld.

Samoa would not be the first to move the dateline.

Kiribati, to the north, was the only nation in the world divided by the dateline.

With two Sundays a week and only one national broadcaster obliged to broadcast hymns on the Lord’s Days, the dateline became an irritation.

Kiribati moved the line east, coincidently meaning that Millennium Island is now the first place to see the new day – although unrecognised as such.

World maps and charts still show Kiribati divided by the dateline, even if they only have one day.

Neither Samoa – nor New Zealand – were invited to the 1884 Washington conference “For the Purpose of Fixing a Prime Meridian and a Universal Day”.

The only real issue for the conference was whether the prime meridian went through London or Paris.

Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Strachey led Greenwich’s case, saying wherever the prime meridian was, there would have to be a line on the other side of the world where the day started.

It would create a break of 24 hours.

''It is much more convenient that this break should take place in the uninhabited part of the earth than in the very centre of civilisation,” his winning argument concluded.