Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (Jan. 6) – Someone has finally said it. The Fiji Islands Maritime Safety Administration is not doing its job in properly enforcing the law.

In a landmark judgment delivered yesterday, Commission of Inquiry head Justice Devendra Pathik found FIMSA, its inspectors and a marine checker guilty of not doing their job.

Even worse, he found that an underwater surveyor was unethical in his work and recommended an extension to the vessel's survey certificate knowing full well that four breaches in the hull had been secured with sandwich plates.

To ensure public safety, he recommended that:

The MV Ovalau II sank in August 2003 just two hours after leaving Ellington Wharf in Rakiraki. The problem was that the hull had sprung a leak. Fortunately no one died in the incident.

But there have been other incidents, which have not been so fortunate. Perhaps the most tragic of all was the Uluilakeba, which capsized in southern Lau during Cyclone Lottie on December 10, 1973.

More than 50 people were reported missing. A government boat, Makogai, nearby also capsized. Five people were missing.

In June 1995, 21 people died when an overloaded boat from Cikobia bound for a church bazaar in Labasa capsized.

And in March 1997, a fishing boat with a crew of ten disappeared during Cyclone Gavin. There have been other senseless tragedies on a smaller scale in the past because of overloading of punts, ignoring safety practices and a lack of policing by FIMSA officials.

On a larger scale, overcrowding on inter-island vessels and frequent mechanical breakdowns remain a concern for the public. In the past, some vessels have been allowed to leave the jetty without proper inspections by marine checkers.

Fortunately, there have been no major tragedies. However, the time has now come for FIMSA and the Government to play its part. Justice Pathik has recommended changes to the law and has exposed flaws in the system.

We now know where the problem lies. Let's not pass the buck nor sleep on the job as was the case in the MV Ovalau II. Let's plug the holes in the system and make public safety the number one priority.

January 6, 2005

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