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Lone Survivor Of 1995 Cikobia Boat Tragedy Shares Her Story

The lone survivor of the mass drowning incident in June 1995 that claimed the lives of 21 people on board a vessel travelling from Cikobia Island to Labasa shared her
26 Jan 2017 11:00
Lone Survivor Of 1995 Cikobia Boat Tragedy Shares Her Story
Toloi Rasaivanua,61 holding the exact size of the gallon she was gripping onto 21 years ago, while she was swimming. Picture: Selita Bolanavanua.

The lone survivor of the mass drowning incident in June 1995 that claimed the lives of 21 people on board a vessel travelling from Cikobia Island to Labasa shared her story yesterday.

Toloi Rasaivanua, 61, said she was 40 when the incident happened, 21 years ago.

They were on a trip to the mainland to attend a Methodist Church conference on June 16, that year.

Sharing her story about that dreadful day when she lost her husband and some family members, Mrs Rasaivanua could only describe the incident as “sorrowful”.

 

The boat trip to Labasa

Such was the pain and grief she felt that day that the events are still fresh in her mind. They departed Cikobia Island at around 8.30am, she continued.

“This is a story of a lifetime. Whenever I share this story, it feels just like it happened yesterday,” she said.

Mrs Rasaivanua said their boat capsized after it was struck by three huge waves.

“We were all gripping onto the boat and it was heartbreaking to see the families grouping up and crying for help,” she said.

She was travelling with her husband and her younger sister and brother-in-law.

“I told my husband that we needed to stay together and stay alive. He was hurt,” she said.

They were swimming the whole day and what kept her afloat was a container she was clinging to until the next day.

“The next morning, it was my husband and I who were alive. My sister and her husband couldn’t swim anymore, I knew they had died.

“The weather was pleasing the next morning as we continued swimming. We could see the shore, so I told my husband and a young lady that was also swimming with us to pray. We prayed for God to take us through.

“I told my husband, Isa! God has given us this day so we can reach the shore safely. Let’s be strong and stay together.”

Mrs Rasaivanua said by then they were now looking towards Nukusa Village in Udu Point.

“Around 11.30am my husband had told me to go and look for help as he was very weak and I should take the lead.”

She said that was the most painful thing she had to do because it was the last time she would see him.

“I told my husband that I couldn’t go and I didn’t want to leave him alone, but he pleaded. But before I left him, he asked me to take care of myself, be strong and also to look after our children and raise them well.”

They have four children, but none had accompanied them that day. The couple were separated at sea at around 1pm.

 

Second chance

“When I left I kept calling my husband and he was responding till the time I couldn’t hear him anymore, then I knew he couldn’t make it.”

Mrs Rasaivanua said she gripped onto a small container and was using it as a floater.

“I kept on praying and asking God for his protection and strength.

“I kept on swimming towards the shore until i could feel the sand on my feet. It was dark by then.

“I crawled to the shore. I couldn’t stand as my legs were both weak. I knelt and cried because I knew I was alive.

“So I crawled until I reached the first house that I came across in Nukusa Village.

“There was a lady in the house and when I called out to her, she was scared as she thought I was a ghost.

“I asked her for a glass of water but it took her a while to respond to me.”

“The first thing she asked was, are you a human being or a ghost?

“I had to explain everything to her before she confirmed that I was really a human being.

“There and then, the villagers took care of me until I was well.”

Mrs Rasaivanua is now remarried to Nemani Vusoniua and they reside at Vunika settlement in Labasa.

A song that was composed by Waikoula kei Tavua called Cikobia is a recount of Mrs Rasaivanua’s and the 21 people who lost their lives on that fateful day.

Edited by Caroline Ratucadra

Feedback:  selita.bolanavanua@fijisun.com.fj

 



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