$1OOk In Losses, Visitors Stranded

But, Patterson Brothers Shipping general manager David Patterson said the vessel was unable to berth at Rotuma the day it arrived due to heavy swells.
07 Jan 2020 13:35
$1OOk In Losses, Visitors Stranded
254 passengers from Australia, New Zealand and United States of America waiting at Oinafa jetty in Rotuma on Saturday, January 4, 2020. Photo: Michael Joe

Over 150 passengers of a chartered tour to Rotuma are up in arms after they were stranded for three days by the vessel they paid to bring them to Viti Levu.

The group of travellers, made up of 70 per cent visitors from Australia, United States of America and New Zealand, are furious after they were told to find alternative means of travel from the island or wait another two weeks for the ship to return.

Among them was Michael Joe, owner of Joe’s Farm Supermarket, who joined the group with his wife for a trip to deliver donated items for the district of Juju. The entourage, initially comprising 254 passengers, took with them 10 containers of donated items and five vehicles as part of their cargo.

“This holiday has ended in the saddest way,” he said yesterday. However, Patterson Brothers Shipping made the trip to Rotuma.

But, Patterson Brothers Shipping general manager David Patterson said the vessel was unable to berth at Rotuma the day it arrived due to heavy swells.

“On the second day, the vessel berthed at risk during the heavy swells and managed to take all the passengers that were at the wharf.

“The other passengers were late and were not at the jetty when our vessel had to pull out due to the bad conditions,” Mr Patterson said.

He said the situation could have been avoided if all passengers were prompt.

“After pulling out at 11:20am, our captain made the decision that the risk was too great to approach the ramp again.

“He advised us and we supported his decision rather than risk the lives of passengers and crew.”

Mr Patterson said an extra sailing trip will be scheduled for Rotuma to bring back the remaining passengers and the company’s machines on the island.

Meanwhile, Goundar Shipping left for Rotuma last night to collect the remaining 154 passengers who are expected to foot their own travel expenses to the mainland until such time as reimbursement of part of the chartered fees are recovered from Patterson Brothers.

Goundar Shipping owner George Goundar said his company will lose around $70,000 for the trip because the vessel will run empty to Rotuma.

“This is all part of business because we understand people are missing work, and children need to get back to school. The request came from the President’s office for me to facilitate,” Mr Goundar said.

He said he understood the situation as his vessels, which were franchised to service the Rotuma route, were also damaged while berthing at the jetty in Rotuma.

“It’s safest to berth and load during the day at Rotuma, everything has to be done before sunset, so we have a short loading time,” Mr Goundar said.

According to Mr Joe, Goundar will bring back passengers to Suva while Patterson Shipping is expected to bring back cargo from the island.

Mr Joe and his wife joined the group for the Christmas tour to Rotuma which was scheduled to return to Suva past Saturday.

However, Patterson Brothers Shipping Company who were chartered for the trip, left Rotuma with only 100 passengers of the 254 passengers.

Mr Joe was stranded on the island with other passengers and made arrangements to fly in to Suva to make arrangements for a vessel to bring the remaining group to the mainland.

He said Patterson Brothers Shipping Company was commissioned in late December to take passengers to and to bring them from Rotuma this month after they had delivered items donated items for the development of Juju.

His wife helped raise $70,000 with her family for school children of Juju.

Mr Joe said Patterson Brothers told him to make alternative arrangements for the remaining group or wait another two weeks for the vessel to return to the island.

In December, the initial group comprised 254 people. When the vessel returned on the chartered date to collect passengers, only 100 managed to board while the vessel was still loading cargo, before the vessel set sail without remaining passengers.

“They just left those passengers stranded on the dock, and did not try to honour the contract,” an emotional and irate Mr Joe said.

In his verbal and written correspondence with Patterson Brothers, Mr Joe said jobs were at stake, children had to return to school on the mainland, and visitors from abroad had to rebook their flights out of Fiji.

“It was a chartered tour, fully paid for, and the short fall too of $40,000 that the ship couldn’t make up for on the trip was paid for by my wife. We’re talking about more than $100,000 in losses,” Mr Joe said.

He said passengers waited from 4am to 6pm on Friday for a chance to board the vessel but were told to wait for cargo to be loaded first. Some passengers returned to their lodgings on the island with intent to return at boarding time.


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