NATION

Ship Delay Part Of A Bigger Issue

Shipping company took two days to look for specific problem in the engine of the ship because they wanted to make sure the passengers were safe during trip and they had no issues while at sea.
09 Jan 2020 10:28
Ship Delay Part Of A Bigger Issue
The MV Brianna at Port Mua-i-Walu in Walu Bay, Suva on January 8, 2020. Photo: Shalveen Chand

The MV Brianna was scheduled to depart for the Lau Group on Monday.

Yesterday, after two days, the ship was still berthed at Port Mua-i-Walu in Walu Bay, Suva, but this time, it was ready to leave at midday. Passengers who had boarded the ship on Monday, by now are frustrated.

These include teachers, students and even a church group headed to one of the islands. Then there are people who are waiting on the island for the ship to return them home.

Jone Ledua said the delay was a hassle and uncalled for.

“We were supposed to be in our homes by now. This is unacceptable of the company,” he vented.

Other passengers also had the same line of thought, blaming the owners of the vessel for the delay.

The MV Brianna was due to leave on a Government franchise route. This route has to be serviced regularly and the Government provides a certain subsidy for this route.

The ship belongs to Victoria Marine Limited. Company director Joe Tagi said after a normal servicing, they found that the engine was losing power when other machinery on board was used.

“We decided to look for the fault and it took us until this morning to have the ship ready. The ship was losing power and the cause was a small spring,” Mr Tagi said.

“It took us this much time to locate the issue, but we did not want to endanger the lives of people on board and have problems while we were out at sea.”

MV Brianna’s Journey

For this trip, the MV Brianna, is scheduled to travel to Vanuavatu, Nayau, Lakeba, Oneata, Komo, Moce, Namuka and Kabara.

Of the islands, the ship can only berth at Lakeba because they have a jetty, but for others, the drop off zone for passengers is either outside the reef in the high seas or in the lagoon. Items are put in fibreglass boats and transported to the island.

This trip is part of the Government shipping franchise. The route is known as an uneconomical route.

The Government awards the shipping company $13,000 for a trip.

Mr Tagi said the subsidy did not truly reflect the cost that was incurred by the company in servicing the Lau Group.

“It takes 20 hours to reach Vanuavatu, then we have to go to the other islands. Offloading can happen only if the conditions are favourable,” he said.

“For some of the islands, the ship has to be on full time and in open waters. There is a crew of 23; everything has to be done manually and we have to feed the passengers on board.

“For one trip, the fuel bill is always more than $10,000, then I have to pay the crew, provide food, berthing cost in Suva and then there are repairs.”

Mr Tagi said earlier last year, his ships were referred to as floating coffins by an Opposition Member who wanted improvements in the types of vessels that were given the Government franchise money.

“The ship was built in 1981 and is still good. The route we are servicing is called the uneconomical route, and it is done for a reason,” he said.

“For shipping companies servicing such routes, this is the reality. For us to improve, the subsidies have to go up.

“Furthermore, there needs to be a control on the number of shipping companies servicing such routes.”

Mr Tagi said passenger numbers varied. He said during the holidays a lot of people travelled, but at other times numbers would dwindle.

In the next two weeks, the MV Brianna would service other islands. The ship makes two trips every month to cover the Lau Group.

Reality of shipping

The shipping industry is vital to Fiji. A number of islands need to be connected through shipping. Most of these islands get supplies, medicine, fuel and food supplied via the ships.

When the ships are late, some of these islands are without supplies. And for those who are in the uneconomical route, if they are travelling, then the conditions of the ship are not a choice they can make.

Last year, submissions were taken from shipping companies on the routes.

Minister for Transport Jone Usamate had stated in Parliament that the Government wanted an improvement in the types of ships servicing the routes under the franchise scheme.

He said the franchise contracts would be extended for a longer period so companies could buy better ships.

The shipping companies say increasing the subsidies is the only answer.

Edited by Jonathan Bryce

Feedback: shalveen.chand@fijisun.com.fj

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