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Ship Drama: Port Authorities Blame Ship Owners For Cause Of Delays

Ship Drama: Port Authorities Blame Ship Owners For Cause Of Delays
Part of the large crowd at Port Mua-i-Walu in Walu Bay, Suva, on Friday, December 22, 2017 waiting to board ships bound for Vanua Levu and the maritime islands.
December 24
11:19 2017

Port authorities point finger on ship owners for cause of delays

Passengers complain of overcrowding in ships and at port

Many were left stranded at Port Mua-i-Walu in Suva

Improper scheduling and irresponsibility by local ship operators have been blamed by the authorities for the delays that left hundreds of passengers waiting overnight on Friday at Port Mua-i-Walu, Walu Bay, in Suva.

Thousands of passengers travel to Vanua Levu and the maritime islands by ship during the Christmas season every year.

Fiji Ports Corporation chief executive officer Vajira Piyasena said: “Boat operators were not keeping up to schedules and most of them had overloaded their vessels.

“This (problem) was entirely created by those people (boat owners) and has nothing to do with Fiji Ports. When you have a boat owner who has issued tickets more than they can carry, it is not our problem.”

On Friday, the Goundar Shipping Limited’s Lomaiviti Princess V trip to Vanua Levu and Taveuni was delayed by eight hours. It was scheduled to leave Suva at 6pm bound for Savusavu and Taveuni, but it did not depart until 2am the next day, a passenger, on condition of anonymity, told Fiji Sun.

In an earlier telephone interview with Goundar Shipping Limited’s managing director, George Goundar, he had said shipping owners were always blamed for overcrowding, but were not at fault when non-ticketholders were allowed into the wharf area.

He also said, while inside the ship trying to calm things down, that at least 30 per cent of the people at the jetty were not passengers.

Mr Goundar runs the biggest interisland ferry business with his five Lomaiviti Princess vessels. But other operators also use Port Mua-i-Walu.

The passenger who spoke to Fiji Sun also said many passengers who had boarded Lomaiviti Princess V early on Friday were sitting along the corridors of the vessel.

This is common on such vessels where people buy seats but then lie in the corridors to sleep.

Mr Goundar had said Lomaiviti Princess V had the capacity to carry 1100 passengers, and 800 had purchased tickets for that particular journey.

Yesterday, more questions sent to Mr Goundar remained unanswered. 

Another passenger, who was denied entry to board Lomaiviti Princess I, said six ships departed at around the same time on Friday. 

He said ticket-holders scheduled to board Lomaiviti Princess I, travelling to Kavala in Kadavu, were denied entry after the vessel went outside its schedule.

Lomaiviti Princess I also had a large number of passengers travelling to Vunisea and it is believed this forced the ship owner to postpone the journey to Kavala by one day.

Another passenger, who also asked to be kept anonymous, said his first time travelling on the new Lomaiviti Princess V would most likely be his last.

“This is the worst boat experience I’ve ever had,” the passenger said.

“We’ve been standing in the rain for nearly two hours and I just feel sorry for the hundreds of people still behind us.”

Others who spoke to Fiji Sun also mentioned about passengers hurling abuse at the ship’s staff members as tension began to rise amid deteriorating weather conditions while the wait continued deep into the night.

They also said children were heard crying.

The Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji (MSAF) chief executive officer, John Tunidau, said yesterday their enforcement officers were trying to control the crowd in the docking area with Police. Last month, MSAF had said they would closely monitor passenger ships during the festive season.

In a statement, the authority had warned ship owners to follow the Maritime Legislations or face criminal charges under the Maritime Transport Act 2013.

Goundar Shipping had invested $2.5 million on the Lomaiviti Princess V in November. But most of the passengers travelling on it buy the cheaper seats rather than cabins or first class seating.

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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