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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (July 12, 2002 -- The Marshall Islands Journal)---Local fishermen have called for changes to be made to the Majuro pass under the bridge following the deaths of a husband and wife from Arno July 5.

Latrik Ladrik and his wife Mila Ladrik died when the 16-foot boat they were traveling in overturned in the pass shortly after 10:00 am.

Sea Patrol was alerted to the accident involving four people when they overheard fishermen in the Marshalls Billfish Club tournament talking about a boat in distress. The patrol’s Chief of Surveillance, Thomas Heine, said: "We had no direct call about the accident, but fortunately our boys were monitoring the VHF radio. By the time we got to the pass, though, it was all over."

Heine said that the latest victims bring the total deaths at the pass to eight people in the last six years or so.

Majuro Sheriff Carney Terry said the boat was carrying four people, that the captain was Jeus Bullis and the owner Lakkia Kai. "The couple drowned," said Terry. "There were no other injuries, but the other two people were in shock. No one on board was wearing a life jacket."

The problems of traversing the pass safely were highlighted again on Sunday (July 7) when another Arno boat, owned by Francis Joklur, overturned, toppling the four men, one woman and a toddler into the water. All made it to shore safely.

"They should make the pass wider and deeper to make it safer for us," Joklur told the Journal.

"We left Arno at 1:00 pm and arrived at the pass at about 2:30 pm. I had the boat coming in just behind a wave, when suddenly another wave appeared and turned the boat over." Joklur’s boat is a 22-footer with an 85 hp outboard motor.

One well-known local recreational fisherman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "The pass needs dredging. It needs more width and depth. The little boats between 14 and 16 foot have the hardest time getting through the pass, especially on the way out of the lagoon because you can’t see the swells."

Engineer Steve Wakefield, who is also a recreational fisherman, doesn’t believe the pass needs dredging, "but it does need maintenance. Some of the big rocks that protect the edges have fallen into the water and these should be removed."

Also concerned about the pass and its inherent dangers is the chairman of MIVA, Kirt Pinho. Speaking at the billfish picnic at Enamanet on Sunday, Pinho said: "The problem is that the operator of a boat going through the pass has to have a lot of experience and then he has to concentrate and watch the wave action. You can’t just come around and go straight in."

Pinho isn’t concerned, however, about the safety of tourists traveling on boats through the pass.

"Tourists go our on solid boats with good operators who all know that the pass is dangerous and know how to deal with it.

"The problem is the inexperienced boaters, most of which don’t comply with safety standards by carrying, for example, life jackets.

"If everyone wore a life vest under the bridge, we wouldn’t lose lives such as we did on Friday."

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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