Shine A Light

Shine A Light: Have You Seen Peniana Vadei?

Pe’s disappearance is a mystery to locals living along the coral coast. It’s the first time such a reported incident has happened in Maui Bay.
21 Sep 2022 14:03
Shine A Light: Have You Seen Peniana Vadei?
(R) MISSING... Peniana Vadei.

It’s been 10 days since Peniana Masuciri Vadei had mysteriously disappeared in the popular Maui Bay along the Coral Coast in Sigatoka.

Ms Vadei, fondly known as ‘Pe’ within her family, had spent the Constitution Day holiday last Wednesday (07/09/2022) on a picnic trip with her mother, Taina Rokobuli, her 17-year-old brother, and his friend in Maui Bay.

She had gone missing on the same day and was last seen wearing navy- blue short pants and a black vest.

Pe’s disappearance is a mystery to locals living along the coral coast. It’s the first time such a reported incident has happened in Maui Bay.

 

Ever since the construction of the pier in 2004, Maui Bay remains an ideal stopover for those travelling on the Queens Road. Maui Bay, according to locals, have only recently become a popular picnic spot after the lifting of the COVID-19 restrictions.

It is understood Police are still conducting their investigations into Pe’s disappearance. The investigation is headed by the Sigatoka Police.

So far, two fishermen, who had last seen Pe gone for a swim, and some of those who were present in Maui Bay, were questioned by family members and Police.

They had positively identified Pe’s clothes. It is also understood that Police had deployed divers on Monday and Tuesday to comb the waters from Maui Bay to Vatulele Island.

Jale Fatai, Taina Rokobuli, Wilisoni Victor in Maui Bay on September 14, 2022. Photo: Ivamere Nataro

Jale Fatai, Taina Rokobuli, Wilisoni Victor in Maui Bay on September 14, 2022. Photo: Ivamere Nataro

Pe’s family had also requested a diver on Thursday to search the Maui Bay waters. The family remains hopeful that they will find closure and answers to their questions.

Pe’s elder brother, Moape Vadei, described Pe as a caring, intelligent girl, who hanged out with friends who shared the same academic interest.

“She doesn’t hang out with popular kids. She’s an active and strong girl and is never fussy when it comes to food,” Mr Vadei said. Pe is one of the many unsolved cases of missing children in Fiji.

Two examples include:

  •  On November 12, 2021, seven- year-old Chiraag Murti was reported missing from their home in Qila, Taveuni; and
  •  Three-year-old Talei Kuta Raikadroka of Kalekana in Lami, remains missing since December 1, 2019.

 

In 2019, a Police report indicated that 37 children were listed missing since 2014. Questions sent to Police and requests for statistics on missing children, remained unanswered.

It was low tide when the family arrived about 11.10am. Ms Rokobuli recalled how Maui Bay was packed with people. Before they had arrived at the beach, they had stopped over at the eatery, about 7 minutes’ drive from Maui Bay. They had bought four coffees – one for each of them.

“When we arrived at Maui Bay, it was hard trying to find a parking spot because there were a lot of people,” she recollected.

Ms Rokobuli said they were invited by a church youth group to join them in a game of volleyball. Pe, her brother, Taufa, and his friend, had accepted the offer and joined the youths.

 

Ms Rokobuli said she also joined the volleyball game. She recalled that Pe had left the game and returned to where they were sitting.

That was the last she saw of her only daughter. Ms Rokobuli and the two boys returned to their sitting spot to have lunch around 2pm.
Pe was nowhere to be found.

Inside her mother’s bag was her phone,with all her social media accounts still logged in, and inside her knapsack was more than $10.

Pe’s slippers were brought from the volleyball ground, which was not far from where they were seated.

Maui Bay.

Maui Bay.

The tide had started to come in slowly around the time they were having lunch.

“The idea that she would go missing was not there because her belongings were with us. The way it was left, indicated to me that she
had gone for a swim,” Ms Rokobuli said.

It was only after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when they were getting ready to leave, that they had realised that Pe was missing. By this time, it was already high tide, and the currents were quite strong.

 

They searched the whole beach but couldn’t find any trace of Pe.

Ms Rokobuli had reported to the Korolevu Police that her daughter had gone missing at the beach, be- fore she and the two boys then travelled to Suva.

Ms Rokobuli had only lodged a formal report at the Nasinu Police Station around seven o’clock the next morning. The report was then transferred to the Sigatoka Police Station.

 

LOCAL VOLLEYBALLERS

One of the locals, Wilisoni Victor, recalled Pe was very shy and didn’tspeak a lot during the game.

“We were on the winning side. So, one of the youth members had called them to make up the other team. They were holding their cups
of coffee,” Mr Victor said.

Mr Victor and another local, Jale Fatai, have lived in Driwa Settlement, located across Maui Bay, for more than three decades. They both admitted seeing Pe play volleyball with them.

Taina Rokobuli, her son Taufa Vadei (middle) and Taufa’s friend at Maui Bay on Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

Taina Rokobuli, her son Taufa Vadei (middle) and Taufa’s friend at Maui Bay on Wednesday, September 7, 2022.

“When we were approached the next day, shown her picture, and asked if we had seen her, it was surprising to us, because we were just playing together on Constitution Day,” Mr Victor said.

Mr Fatai said the time it took to finally carry out a search in the sea was too late because of the change in weather encountered within a week.

Since the day Pe had disappeared, there were continuous king tides until Friday.

 

“If she had been swept away by the tides, it’s impossible to find her now, because it’s been more than a week,” Mr Fatai said.

The two said Maui Bay was a popular drinking spot, but nothing of such incident was ever reported.

“We even go diving in the night, there are no traces of sharks or anything of that sort,” Mr Fatai said.

 

DIVER’S EXPLANATION

Pe’s family had requested the assistance of an expert diver from Vatukarasa Village to help in the search.

It was more than a week after Pe’s disappearance. Joseva Vetawa, 37, has been used on several occasions by Police and locals to search for people, who had allegedly drowned, at sea.

On these several occasions, he’s recovered five bodies, some missing a leg, ears, or arms. One scenario he recalled was recovering a body that had its lower part eaten by fishes in just one night.

“I know the reefs from Navutulevu Village to the mouth of the Sigatoka River like the back of my hand,” Me Vetawa said.

Expert diver, Joseva Vetawa.

Expert diver, Joseva Vetawa.

He said Pe’s body should have been recovered if she had drowned, unless her body was eaten by the fishes. Explaining about the underwater structure of Maui Bay, Mr Vetawa said Pe’s body should have been recovered.

“There are four small channels in the reef. If the waves had swept her towards the direction of the pier, she would be trapped in one of those two channels, and vice versa if she was to be swept the other direction,” he said.

“And if she’s not trapped in those channels, then there are three big underwater reefs that will no doubt trap her. Unless her body was eaten by the fishes.”

Mr Vetawa said the channels trapped everything that was swept by the current, these included empty packets of noodles and beans, and even clothes.

 

HOPEFUL MOTHER

It never occurred to Ms Rokobuli that her daughter would have disappeared for this long. She had only thought that her daughter had wandered off and was going to return the next day.

While Ms Rokobuli may seem to look calm and collected, she misses her only daughter dearly.

Whenever she finds herself alone and looking at Pe’s pictures, she bursts into tears. She recalled her last moment with her daughter inside the car as they were travelling down to Maui Bay that morning.

RIGHT: Taina Rokobuli shows the clothes that her daughter was wearing before she changed into her swim clothes. Photo: Ivamere Nataro

RIGHT: Taina Rokobuli shows the clothes that her daughter was wearing before she changed into her swim clothes. Photo: Ivamere Nataro

“Pe wanted to lie down, so she laid on my lap, and I hugged her through- out the trip, the kind of hug that showed a mother’s love. I’m starting to realise it was probably the last motherly gesture I would show my daughter,” Ms Rokobuli said.

“She was also asking me if she could take a walk along the reefs. My daughter is someone who loves to walk and sightsee. But she returns home.”

 

Despite the lack of evidence surrounding her daughter’s whereabouts, Ms Rokobuli is hopeful that she will find her daughter.

But she is ready to accept whatever her daughter’s fate is.

Ms Rokobuli still travels to Maui Bay to find answers to her questions and some sense of closure.

 

YOUTH MEMBER

Fredrick Peter Quaihoi only came to know Pe when she joined their youth group – First Love – last year. Mr Quaihoi was also Pe’s senior at Jai Narayan College. He recalled that Pe was a kind and respectful girl.

“I only came to know when she started attending our youth group. She was an intelligent girl, helpful and was an active member of our
youth group.”

“Our youth group still prays for her that wherever she is, she finds peace.”

 

Feedback: ivamere.nataro@fijisun.com.fj



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