NATION | NEWS

Four Tell Of Ordeal

The four people who were reported missing at sea, after leaving Cikobia for Qaraniwai Landing, near Udu in Vanua Levu on Thursday, are now back with their families.
03 Oct 2022 16:00
Four Tell Of Ordeal
Reunited… Sereana Dibabe hugs her daughter tightly at the Luisa Rabaro while she receives treatment at the Labasa Hospital on October 2, 2022. Photo: Sampras Anand

The four people who were reported missing at sea, after leaving Cikobia for Qaraniwai Landing, near Udu in Vanua Levu on Thursday, are now back with their families.

Tumeli Rabaro, his four-year-old daughter – Luisa, his cousins – Loqinasava Naulivesi, Viliame Valecili, were reported missing on Friday.

They travelled in a fibre glass boat to return to Labasa. The three men were on a mission to help build a pastor’s house on Cikobia.

 

After going through a three days and nights ordeal, the four were at the Labasa Hospital yesterday each on IV fluid drip. They were all discharged the same day, with the four-year-old being kept a little longer to ensure her vitals were good.

Their rescue was all thanks to coordinated Search And Rescue (SAR) efforts by the Fiji Police Force, Nadi Airport ARSC, Maritime New Zealand’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ), New Zealand Air Force P3 and the RFMF Naval Division flight team.

They were spotted 300km away from Kia by the New Zealand Air Force P3 on Saturday. The plane air dropped essential supplies until a barge that helped in the SAR took them to Malau where they arrived at around 6am yesterday.

 

At the hospital, Mr Rabaro, told of how he kept encouraging his daughter to be strong and reassuring her that they would reach home soon.

“She eventually had the belief that we would have our lunch in Labasa,” he said.

“Mr Rabaro’s wife, Sereana Dibabe, said their family at Soasoa, Labasa, prayed in earnest.We did not eat and sleep well the whole three days,” Ms Dibabe said.

“We knew they did not have enough water and food and this haunted us,” Ms Dibabe said.

 

The mother-of-five said the waters near Cikobia are known to be rough which increased their anxiety. She is now determined keep her daughter by her side.

“I will not send my daughter to Cikobia any time soon,” she said.

“This is an incident that could have cost her life.”

Mr Rabaro, who turned 44 on Saturday said it was the best birthday present to be able to see his wife. A function was held last night to celebrate his birthday and thanksgiving service to God for sparing their lives.”

Sitting second from left: Alive and well Loqinasava Naulivesi, Tumeli Rabaro and Viliame Valecili with family members who welcomed them back at the Labasa Hospital on October 2, 2022. Photo: Sampras Anand

Sitting second from left: Alive and well Loqinasava Naulivesi, Tumeli Rabaro and Viliame Valecili with family members who welcomed them back at the Labasa Hospital on October 2, 2022. Photo: Sampras Anand

He recalled of a tragic event in 1995 when 20 villagers from Cikobia Island passed away after their boat capsized and drowned. Mr Valecili’s father was one of the victims while Mr Rabaro’s mother was the sole survivor of the tragedy.

Mr Valecili, a farmer, said: “I am glad help arrived in time. I have a wife and son who look up to me with great love and as a source of financial stability.

As for Mr Naulivesi he said he was still traumatised after the ordeal.

 

How it happened from Mr Rabaro’s account:

It all started at around 8am when the four planned to return to Labasa tracing the route they came through. They were expected to reach Qaraniwai Landing at around 10am.

Mr Rabaro said midway through their trip he believed that the engine fuel mixed with water hence the engine failure caused the boat to drift.

As supplies, they carried two litres of drinking water, raw coconut crabs, plantain and a pumpkin. They did not have a blanket, they used a tarpaulin.

The four did not eat anything on the first night, except for a few sips of water.

 

Friday

On Friday morning, the three men decided to cut half the tarpaulin to use as a sail to manoeuvre to the nearest island of Kia to seek refuge. They finally ate some plantain (vudi) and a few more sips of water.

That entire night they slept without any blanket or warm clothes and relied on each other’s body heat to keep warm.

All the while, the weather was fine.

 

Saturday

On Saturday morning, they realised that a search and rescuse operation was launched after a New Zealand Air Force P3 plane hovered above them.

At that, the men gave thanks to the God for answering their prayers. The plane air-dropped essential supplies like chocolates, bottled water, signal light torches and a walkie talkie.

Mr Valecili, 30, first attempted to retrieve the supplies which was said to be about 30 metres away from their boat.

However, due to exhaustion, he fainted and Mr Rabaro took up the responsibility to retrieve both the supplies and his cousin.

The rescue team kept a close watch on the men and child and planned a retrieval early the next day.

 

Sunday

During the early hours of the morning, a barge ship was deployed from Malau to the said location, approximately 300 kilometres from Kia Island.

At around 6am, they reached Malau where they were greeted family members and then travelled to Labasa Hospital where they were examined.

 

Police Commissioner

Commissioner of Police, Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho, acknowledged the successful mission. He also thanked the director of Cruise Holdings Sal Douglas, the owner of the barge – MV Bandicoot.

The three men thanked the Police and all coordinated partners for the rescue and safe return to their loved ones.

Mr Rabaro said: “We will always remember this help and survival effort and share stories with our families and children on this successful rescue and a second chance in life.”

 

Story by: sampras.anand@fijisun.com.fj



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