Tiny Pacific Island Hit By First Bank Robbery

Aug 18, 2011

Police have been flown into the tiny Pacific resort island of Aitutaki, where officials say their bank has been robbed — a first for the small, tight-knit community. Part of the Cook Islands, Aitutaki is famous for its beaches, which ring a large lagoon full of clear, ice-blue water.

Tourism is the island's biggest industry — and that has local officials thinking that the shocking bank robbery was perpetrated by a visitor, not a resident.

"It's the first time something like this has happened here. Police have been here talking to people and they had to close the bank for a few days," Mary Tini, 73, told the New Zealand Herald. "People are very shocked."

Around 2,000 people live on the island, which maintains only a small police force. The thieves made off with an estimated $200,000 in New Zealand dollars, or $166,000 US.

The bank shared a concrete building with the island's telecommunications and customs and revenue offices.

The thieves "broke through the door, and then had to break through another door to get to the safe," Aitutaki Mayor John Baxter told Radio New Zealand.

As for any suspects, Baxter said, "We do not believe this nature of a robbery could be done by a Aitutakian."

He added that the island is now in "full yachtie season," when boats that are cruising around the Pacific often visit its harbor.

"Police are checking up on these yachties that have left the island," Baxter said.

You can hear Baxter's interview with the network:

In addition to its natural beauty, Aitutaki is renowned for its high number of churches — said to be the most per square mile in the world. And since February 2010, the island has been recovering from its encounter with Cyclone Pat, which damaged a reported 80 percent of the island's houses.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.