Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On
Safety at Sea
I was stationed in Levuka in the 80s as a Customs officer. The then Customs Department also looked after the work of the Marine Department. One of the important aspects of the Marine Departments work was to see that no vessels that depart the wharf were overloaded.
We had 28 footer fisheries fishing boats departing everyday and it was always an issue to go to an overloaded boat and tell the captain that his boat was overloaded. I was always told
politely that they had been doing that for many years and I shouldn’t worry too much.
These 28 footers had a loading limit as follows – when they were going outside the reef the limit was two people and inside the reef the limit was four.. During my days in Levuka I saw a boat come in from the outer islands with 29 people. Yes, 29 and I am not joking. The vessel I am referring to is similar to the one that drifted and ended up in the Solomon Islands.
Overloading usually happens during the beginning of the school holidays and the start of school.
Most of these boats didn’t have life jackets and the ones that did had only two and in many instances they were old and in need of replacement.
One time when a 28-footer was about to leave the Levuka wharf with 18 people and a chest of drawers and I intervened. Even though I told the captain not to leave I was told not to worry. The boat left and about one hour later I heard people saying that a boat was drifting past the Natubari light house (The entrance to the Levuka harbor). Luckily the fishing vessel Independence captained by the late Mr. Gordon Elliot was in port and he went out and towed the boat in. I confronted the captain and he just looked sheepishly at me and shrugged. I have many other similar stories to tell but will end here.
We need to seriously tell our people that safety is paramount. A life lost, costs more than a $300 life jacket.
Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in Fiji. I thank Allen for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.
Note from Croz. Allen, Perhaps we also need to know why a life jacket costs so much. Cost must be a major reason why skippers don't carry them. If they are overseas-made, I'm sure they could be made locally using local skills and materials. What's your opinion on the use of rafts, bouys, and inflated tyres, and the use of polystyrene and a sealed compartment in the boat itself?