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Some say prayers, remembering Tonga’s tragic Ashika

By Taina Kami Enoka APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Aug. 30, 2011) - A "minor technical glitch" in the Lady Samoa III traveling from Upolu to Savai’i caused passengers to panic last Friday.

Some passengers contacted loved ones on their mobile phones. One passenger said she immediately remembered the Princess Ashika tragedy and she started praying it wouldn’t be repeated in Samoa.

According to reports from passengers, the ferry left Upolu at 4 pm. But the engines experienced problems midway between Apolima and their destination. The tide was high, there were strong winds and the ferry was beginning to drift.

The incident according to the passenger happened at 4:40 pm. The engine problems were followed by an announcement in Samoan. Translated into English, it said; "As you have obviously realized, we are having some trouble getting to our destination. Please be patient."

The passenger said there were no follow up announcements from the captain. Instead all they could hear were sounds she compared to a car being jump-started.

The ferry, said the mother, had more than 200 passengers. There were students traveling to see family for the weekend and others.

And after 20 minutes of no updates, the mother said passengers started to get worried.

At 5:17 pm, the boat started again.

Another announcement from the caption said "thank you for your patience, but no explanation was given," she said.

Chief Executive Officer of Samoa Shipping Corporation (SSC),Papali’i Willie Hansen confirmed the incident but said there was nothing to worry about.

He said there were safety measures available on the ferry with safety boats and back up if necessary.

"Safety is paramount for the Samoa Shipping Corporation," he said. "There was a technical problem with the engine and the engineers were required to go there and have it checked. With issues of safety, you don’t want to take any chances.

"So that’s why the ferry had to stop."

A passenger told the Samoa Observer they arrived in Savai’i at 6:15 pm. That was after nearly 40 minutes of drifting.

During the time where the ferry was drifting, "people started to get up and move towards the sides of the boat. Everyone was calm but it was just everyone not knowing. I could hear people asking each other, what’s happening? What’s happening?"

A family sat in front of the mother. There were the parents. Amongst the children there was one in a Samoa College uniform and two in Vaivase Primary School uniforms.

"If they (the captain) had just told us what was happening. I know I would have felt better."

The mother who frequently travels to Savaii suggests that communication be improved between ferries and Samoa Shipping Corporation Ltd. It also needs improvement between captain and passengers.

"For me, it was a big thing. It brings back the horrors of the Tongan incident (Princess Ashika). For me this one was scary. It was the first time I felt frightened. It was awful."

According to the company’s website, the newly launched Lady Samoa III has a capacity of 740 passengers and 40 vehicles.

"This new state of the art vessel which features a business class section of 48 spacious seats, access to terminal lounges, steward assistance, light refreshments, priority boarding, onboard entertainment and a canteen to purchase a meal of your choice."

Additional features includes an elevator, a sick bay and mobile facilities to accommodate those with special needs.

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