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New Zealand Asks US Embassy Wellington Staffer to Leave

Posted: 03:14 am ET

 

New Zealand news media reported over the weekend that a U.S. diplomat was involved in an incident in Lower Hutt, one of the four cities of the Wellington metro area.  It is not know what happened during the incident, only that the diplomat was reportedly “left with a broken nose and a black eye.” According to NZHerald,  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) asked the US Embassy on Monday to waive the staffer’s diplomatic immunity so police could investigate the incident.  “The United States Government has today declined to waive the diplomat’s immunity,” the spokesman said. “Therefore, MFAT has asked the United States to withdraw the staff member in question from New Zealand.”  Some news reports have identified the diplomat but we have been unable to confirm the name or the status of the individual. US Embassy Wellington has not responded to our inquiry to-date.

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US Embassy New Zealand’s Chancery Rehab Project: Safety and Health Concerns With Ongoing Construction

Posted: 12:53 am ET

 

In November 2013, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced the construction award, through “best value” determination of the major rehabilitation project of the chancery of the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.  This project, according to the announcement would include seismic strengthening, security improvements, and general building upgrades.

Below is a brief description of the project estimated to cost between $36-50 million:

SAQMMA-13-R0094, Wellington, New Zealand, Chancery Major Rehabilitation.

The 3,000 gross square meters Chancery building, originally constructed by the USG in 1977, sits on a 1.4 acre compound, located in the Thorndon section of Wellington, in close proximity to a number of other embassies and just north of the New Zealand government offices.  The compound is situated at the edge of a residential scale neighborhood of mostly two- to four-story buildings and is across the street from a neighborhood of much taller (up to approximately 16 stories), more densely sited commercial and mixed use buildings.

Anticipated renovation work includes:  retrofitting the exterior of the Chancery building façade to meet DOS standards for seismic and blast protection, systems upgrades throughout the building (electrical, telecommunication, mechanical, plumbing, fire and life-safety, and technical security), seismically bracing all building equipment and infrastructure, handicapped accessibility upgrade, constructing a 110 gsm addition to enlarge the work area, and space utilization improvements.  Site work includes: a physical security upgrade at the two vehicular entrances; new parking configuration; and new landscaped areas.

The project will require extensive use of swing space and construction phasing, as the Chancery office functions must be fully operational for the entirety of the project.

Via US Embassy Wellington, NZ

Photo by US Embassy Wellington, NZ

This week, we’ve received several concerns about the ongoing construction project:

Safety issues: “Work is going on while this building is still occupied by dozens of employees, creating a largely unsafe working environment. Repeated inquiries to Worksafe NZ have gone unanswered, despite the fact that there have been serious injuries on this project. At this point it’s just a matter of time until someone is killed on this site.  The building has been evacuated repeatedly due to fire alarms, and building-wide power outages are a routine occurrence.”

Structural concerns: “The building suffered damage from the Kaikoura earthquake in November, and staff were required to return to work before a structural assessment was completed.”

Health concerns:  “Employees in all sections are routinely subjected to excessively high levels of noise, dust and smoke. Dozens of employees have complained of respiratory and vision problems since the project began in 2014.” 

Communication issues:  “A dozen employees were recently evacuated to the British High Commission due to this project, and their workplaces were subsequently consumed by the work. After the High Commission’s closure these staff had to return to the Embassy, except now they effectively have no workspaces. There is no timeline for completion of the project, or for when the rest of the staff might expect any improvement in the work environment.”

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We’ve asked State/OBO about these concerns and allegations. We also wanted to know what the bureau has done to mitigate the disruption, and the health and security concerns regarding the ongoing construction. Below is the full response from the State/OBO spox:

In September 2013 the Department awarded a contract to rehabilitate the existing chancery in Wellington to meet seismic and security requirements, as well as address needed improvements to building systems.  The extensive construction work underway is required to retrofit and seismically strengthen the building.  The project was carefully planned in phases in order to maintain business operations of the embassy during the construction period and phasing plans and impacts were discussed and briefed to stakeholders prior to executing the project.  The project is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

Construction of an occupied building is always a difficult under taking and is inconvenient, but measures have been in place since the inception of the project to ensure the safety of both construction workers and embassy staff working in the building.  The project is being managed in accordance with the procedures and policies of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and the Department.

OBO is aware of complaints such as those raised and has reviewed the matter.  Though the project has encountered challenges — as is expected with a project of this complexity – the review confirmed that there is an appropriate safety program administered by the construction contractor and enforced by OBO project management, and that there have not been violations of required policies and procedures.

The original note sent to us says that “There is no timeline for completion of the project” but the OBO spox readily told us that project is scheduled for completion in early 2018. That indicates to us that there may be a hiccup in the communication line between employees and the project folks.  Somebody please fix that.  Whatever discussions or briefs were done to “stakeholders” were not heard or understood.

A separate source told us that US Embassy Wellington and OBO were “looking into having some staff work at home”, or “occupy an office in the British High Commission”, to avoid disruptions while the chancery is renovated.  A check with the BHC, however,  indicates that the British High Commission in Wellington announced on November 24, 2016 that its building will be closed until further notice.  Damage from the recent earthquakes has apparently been discovered in their offices following an inspection so the building was temporarily closed for safety reasons.  Now folks still have work but no workspaces?  What’s the secret to making that work?

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Related items:

FedBiz listing: https://www.fbo.gov/spg/State/A-LM-AQM/A-LM-AQM/SAQMMA-13-R0094/listing.html

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces the Construction Award for Major Rehabilitation of U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC -11/12/13

 

Related posts:

 

 

US Mission New Zealand: USS Sampson Supports Kaikoura Earthquake Relief Efforts

Posted: 1:55  am ET

On November 13 we blogged that the US Embassy in Wellington issued an emergency message for New Zealand following a 7.8 earthquake and tsunami warning.  Citing New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, the USG said that there were 1,200 tourists in Kaikoura — a town of about 3,800 — when the earthquake struck. The tourist town has reportedly been completely cut off from the rest of the island due to landslides and flooding.

On November 15, the US Embassy’s updated message says to direct anyone with friends or family in Kaikoura to make their way to the Takahanga Marae Welfare Centre to register with the Red Cross to be on the evacuation list. On November 16, the amphibious sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury evacuated around 450 people out of Kaikoura to Christchurch. The NZ Defence Force said that the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 3 Squadron evacuated another 60 people and delivered two tonnes of aid to Kaikoura, bringing to about 660 the total number of people evacuated from the quake-damaged town.  Surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force also conducted surveys of quake-damaged areas, focusing particular attention on inland and railway routes.

Ships from Australia, Japan, Canada, Singapore including the the United States’ USS Sampson were already traveling to New Zealand to take part in the International Naval Review to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy. When the earthquake struck, the ships were diverted from the planned celebration to assist in humanitarian efforts.

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US Embassy Wellington Issues 7.8 Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Message For New Zealand

Posted: 5:19 pm PT
Updated: 10:25 pm PT to include the ambassador’s statement

On November 14, the US Embassy in Wellington issued the following Security Message for U.S. citizens traveling or residing in New Zealand:

The U.S. Geological Service has reported a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in North Canterbury, New Zealand on the South Island in the early hours of Monday morning.  Its epicenter was 15 km north-east of Culverden, close to Hanmer Springs, at 12:02 AM local time.  Military helicopters have been dispatched to the town of Kaikoura on the east coast to assess the damage and help those worst hit.  Prime Minister John Key has confirmed that there have been two fatalities.  Wellington City Council has asked workers based in the city center to stay home today “owing to potential damage to buildings and disruptions to public transport”.

At 8:13 AM, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management announced a tsunami marine and beach threat from Napier to north of Dunedin, Cook Straight coastal areas, and The Chatham Islands.  The threat for all other regions has been lifted.  All previous threat regions will experience unusually strong currents for some time.  Areas under ‘Marine and Beach Threat’ can expect unusually strong currents and unpredictable water flows near the shore.  This means a threat to beach, harbor, estuary, and small boat activities.  The severity of currents and changing water flows will vary within a particular coastal area and over the period this warning is in effect.  People in Napier to north of Dunedin, Cook Straight coastal areas, and The Chatham Islands areas should:

  1. Stay out of the water (sea, rivers, and estuaries, including boating activities).
  2. Stay off beaches and shore areas.
  3. Do not go sightseeing.
  4. Share this information with family, neighbors, and friends.
  5. Listen to the radio and/or TV for updates.
  6. Follow instructions of local civil defense authorities.
  7. If beach threat is forecasted for your area, take appropriate evasive action.

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in New Zealand enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step.  STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency.

U.S. Ambassador Gilbert said that USG employees are all accounted for but they are still trying to locate those who are on vacation.

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15th Anniversary: September 11 Remembrances Around the Foreign Service

Posted: 12:56 am ET

 

US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

US Embassy San Jose, Costa Rica

US Embassy Dublin, Ireland

US Consulate Vancouver, Canada

US Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

US Embassy Warsaw, Poland

US Embassy London, UK

US Embassy Budapest, Hungary

US Embassy Montevideo, Uruguay

US Consulate Munich, Germany

US Consulate Halifax, Canada

U.S. Embassy Djibouti, Djibouti

 

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Quote of the Day: “As an ambassador I am non-partisan.”

 

“As an ambassador I am non-partisan. But the United States is not what you hear from Donald Trump. We are not bigoted, we are not frightened of immigrants. The election rhetoric is out of control and what you hear from Donald trump is not what the President nor I stand for.”

Ambassador Mark Gilbert
U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand
SunLive: Navarone and the ambassador
April 1, 2016

 

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole

Posted: 3:24 am EST

 

Via US Embassy New Zealand/FB:

US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole during a visit at the NSF’s McMurdo Station with Political Counselor Lian Von Wantoch.  According to the National Science Foundation, Americans have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet without interruption since 1956. These investigators and supporting personnel make up the U.S. Antarctic Program. The three U.S. year-round research stations are located on Ross Island (McMurdo Station), at the geographic South Pole (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), and on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region (Palmer Station). Learn more about the Antarctic Program here: Division of Polar Programs – National Science Foundation

Screen Shot

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American Embassies and Consulates Around the World Celebrate Thanksgiving Day

Posted: 2:35 pm EDT

 

 🍗 Happy Thanksgiving Day everyone!   Thank you for your continued support this year. I am grateful for your making this blog a part of your day. To our champions, I am here because you were there for me. I am grateful for your unending encouragement. Thank you all for making this year possible!

Below is a round-up of Thanksgiving Day celebrations around the Foreign Service. Giving thanks to the men and women representing America at our diplomatic missions around the world. They have in the past, served meals at community centers, served meals to local embassy and consulate staffers, hosted Peace Corps volunteers away from their homes, and more than a few have cooked/brought meals to Americans incarcerated overseas during the Thanksgiving holidays.  — D

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US Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

Ambassador Mark Gilbert and staff hosted the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at the Downtown Community Ministry in Wellington.

 

US Consulate General Mumbai

 

US Embassy Madrid, Spain

 

US Embassy Panama, Panama

 

US Embassy Singapore

Ambassador Kirk Wagar with embassy staffers served dinner to more than a hundred elderly guests at the AWWA Senior Community Home in the city.

 

US Embassy Prague, Czech Republic

 

US Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

American diplomats served typical Thanksgiving dishes to their media colleagues in Jakarta.

 

US Embassy Berlin, Germany

US Embassy Muscat, Oman

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US Embassy Ankara, Turkey

DCM and Mrs. Larry Mandel served the traditional Thanksgiving meal to embassy employees at the cafeteria in Ankara.

 

US Consulate General Istanbul, Turkey

Consul General Chuck Hunter and American colleagues cooked and served a Thanksgiving luncheon to the staff at the Consulate cafeteria in Istanbul.

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

Ambassador Glyn T. Davies hosted 41 Peace Corps volunteers for Thanksgiving.  Bravo!

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Related posts:

Ninety-Five Years Ago, We Tried to Export American Thanksgiving Day Around The World

Thanksgiving Day 2012: Foreign Service Roundup

Thanksgiving Day 2011: Foreign Service Roundup

Thanksgiving Roundup: Around the Foreign Service

SCOTUS Rules Same-Sex Marriage Is a Right, See Round-Up of US Embassies on LGBT Pride Month

Posted: 9:27 am PDT

 

SCOTUS ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry. Excerpt from the majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy (via NYT):

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy said of the couples challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The case is Obergefell v. Hodges.  Read the SCOTUS opinion here (pdf). Sending hugs to our friends in the LGBT community this beautiful and historic summer day!

Below is a round-up of U.S. embassies marking LGBT Pride Month this year:

Nicosia, Cyprus

Wellington, New Zealand


Manila , Philippines

Ankara, Turkey

Tel Aviv, Israel

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Buenos Aires, Argentina


Luxembourg

 

Tokyo, Japan 

 

London, United Kingdom

Meanwhile, in Amman, Jordan

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Around the Foreign Service — Remembrances and Commemorations, Memorial Day 2015

Posted: 5:28 pm  PDT


US Embassy Belgium

U.S. Memorial Day commemorations in Belgium | Each year, the U.S. Embassy to the Kingdom of Belgium observes Memorial Day by participating in commemoration ceremonies to honor the more than 14,000 American soldiers buried in Belgium in World War One and World War Two cemeteries.

Photo by US Embassy Brussels/FB

Photo by US Embassy Brussels/FB

US Embassy Romania

US Embassy Bucharest, Romania |  Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Dean Thompson at the occasion of Memorial Day Ceremony. Bucharest, May 22, 2015 (Lucian Crusoveanu / Public Diplomacy Office)

Photo by US Embassy Romania/Flickr

Photo by US Embassy Romania/Flickr

US Mission NATO

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US Embassy United Kingdom

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USCG Strasbourg, France

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US Consulate Halifax, Canada

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US Embassy New Zealand

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US Embassy Netherlands

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