One of Fiji Siren’s Last Passengers Tells: Abandon Ship

Ross Hoek will never forget Fiji. It was his first time here with his wife, Cathy. They have two daughters and two grandsons. They have been on several dive trips
20 Nov 2017 11:00
One of Fiji Siren’s Last Passengers Tells: Abandon Ship
Ross Hoek.

Ross Hoek will never forget Fiji.

It was his first time here with his wife, Cathy. They have two daughters and two grandsons.

They have been on several dive trips to the Carribbean, and a trip to the Galapagos Islands.

He lives in Michigan and owns a small computer-controlled machine shop with eight employees.

The couple recently took up diving to get away from work.

Last week, they were part of the group who dived our waters while onboard the Fiji Siren, a profession­al dive liveaboard.

The Fiji Siren was launched in September 2013 and offers year-round diving in conjunction with the Volivoli Beach Resort.

On November 15, in the early hours, the yacht sunk in the Bligh Waters.

The 16 tourists and 13 local crew members are safe. Most of the tour­ists have continued on with their journey.

Worldwide Dive and Sail, the own­ers of Fiji Siren confirmed that the yacht would not be salvaged.

This is Mr Hoek’s account of what happened:

I felt the impact at 1:30 am, woke and told my wife we just hit some­thing, then I went back to sleep.

The impact was significant enough to wake me and others but not everyone. To me it felt like a single hit, maybe like a log in the prop would feel. An hour or so later our emergency lights came on. My wife and I woke and she asked me to turn them off. I told her they were emergency lights and I couldn’t turn them off, when she asked why they were on I said we probably lost the generator power.

Very soon thereafter, Simon, the cruise director and operations manager for the Fiji operation, was calm and confident as he woke us and told us we would probably abandon ship.

He spelled out specific instruc­tions to gather our passports, meds, and don warm clothes before we met at the muster station. A few short minutes later he was back and didn’t cause unnecessary panic but told us to hurry.

In the few minutes it took us, many things went through my mind, did we hit a log or the reef and bend the prop shaft which took out the seal or was this worse?

The impact felt small to me, I am a machinist and race car driver and I wasn’t very concerned but was glad the crew wasn’t taking chances. Af­ter gathering our meds I was con­cerned enough to go out of my way into a corner of the salon to grab my laptop and put it in a dry bag be­fore putting it in my backpack with our meds and cell phones.

At the muster station captain, Jeke apologised and announced we would indeed abandon ship and take the tenders to Namena which was a short ride away.

The first boat filled quickly and was off. I think I was the last guest on the second tender and as I walked past the door to the engine room I saw one of the crew working to start what looked like a portable generator to me.

He was up to his knees in water and at that point I knew things were pretty bad. As we made our way to the front another crew member exclaimed with joy as he got a gas pump running. We got out of his way as he brought it to the engine room.

Knowing we were heading to an uninhabited island I took the op­portunity to retrieve our dive lights from our scuba gear, only 10 feet from the tender boarding area, I knew I had a few seconds. When I reached my gear, the lights were gone the crew had raided them for use in the maintenance effort.

For me this was another sign of the severity of the situation and effort the crew had put in while we were sleeping.

After boarding the tender I was en­couraged by jugs of fuel and bottled water but I did notice a significant difference in the step from the Si­ren to the tender.

For our dives, we had a significant step down, now it was flush or a step up, this meant she was down over a foot and I knew this was the last time we would see the Siren but I felt the pump I saw start would easily move enough water to keep the Siren afloat.

After boarding the tender we had a moment to reflect, everyone was calm and off safely, I ran through what I saw and analysed my thoughts. I was glad the seas were calm and it wasn’t raining.

The ride to Namena was long, I thought I heard five minutes but maybe it was five miles. At any rate it took us probably 30 minutes to get to shore. Simon was on my boat and on the satellite phone although I couldn’t hear anything from the conversation.

I looked at the other guests and didn’t see anyone that wasn’t cop­ing well. I think most underes­timated what was happening, it wasn’t real, it couldn’t be, that only happens in the movies and it’s al­ways way more dramatic than this so this is just a precaution, right?

Throughout the ride to shore I looked across the boat at my wife, we were separated as I took time to grab my laptop. At first I didn’t even know where she was but she ap­peared to be fine and focused ahead into the dark of night.

One of the dive masters, Tomu, was sitting next to me, I looked at him and Si our tender driver. They were calm and focused. Tomu al­ways had a great smile and was re­ally good with the guests, he looked back at me and patted my shoulder in an effort to encourage me.

He did this several times on the trip to shore and I wished he was seated in a position where he could encourage the ladies onboard but now I wonder if he wasn’t possibly reaching out of his solitude know­ing the dire condition of the ship?

After all, I’m assuming he was im­mediately involved in the repair effort and after years of service he certainly knew what normal was for these trips and this wasn’t nor­mal.

As we got closer to shore the care­takers of the island pointed a spot light at us. We were told they knew we were coming but how could they? (Later they revealed they thought we might be poachers.)

Their light led us to the beach and a safe place to land the tenders where they met us on shore and asked what happened. We prompt­ly unloaded the boats and collected our thoughts.

Simon addressed the group, we were to take shelter in a cabana on the top of the island and he would go back to the Siren to gather more gear and assist. He said he’d be gone a couple hours at least.

We watched them leave then trudged up the hill in the dark. The cabana was a pleasant surprise as it was nearly fully repaired from the hurricane.

It had a king bed, some chairs, a bathroom with running water and actually had extra mattresses and bedding. Ana and Lea from the boat promptly made beds and we let the eldest and ladies have them.

Liveaboard dive trips tend to lack privacy but this was a whole new level! With twice as many guests as beds I took a chair cushion and life jacket and made my bed on the floor.

Group leader Heather, sat in the chair next to me and recited a prayer as we tried to wind down and rest for a couple hours till we would see daylight. My wife was on the bed with two other ladies and I silently said a prayer of thanks for our safe passage and shelter for the night.

Sleep was scarce, the floor was hard and my choice of pillow was poor so I got up at twilight to ex­plore a little.

I took my bottle of water and wan­dered, looking for the Siren on the horizon as well as curious of our refuge. The island was obviously ravaged by the cyclone but I was very thankful for our little hut and functional bathroom.

If one had options when getting shipwrecked, I thought we came out pretty great! Edited by Ranoba Baoa


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