Maritime Safety to lay charges over Solomon Islands
Maritime Safety officials in Solomon Islands are reportedly set to lay charges over the sinking of a ferry carrying more than three times its legal number of passengers.
Maritime safety officials in Solomon Islands are reportedly set to lay charges over the sinking of a ferry carrying more than three times its legal number of passengers.
All survived when the MV Francis Gerena sank off the coast of one of the Gela group of islands on its way from the capital Honiara to north Malaita on Wednesday.
Our Solomon Islands correspondent Dorothy Wickham says more than 300 people were on board the ship and suggestions the crew were drinking alcohol are not surprising.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: This is an issue that the Marine Department needs to take a serious look at, not only whether they were drunk or not, whether they're qualified to be working on these boats. That's been an issue for a couple of years now. Transport owners, especially boat owners, need to ensure that people who work for them on the boats are qualified marine people. There's been a lot of these cases where even some of the captains are not qualified to captain a boat. And then you have engineers - we don't have enough of those, too, I think that's one of the reasons. And then if the pay is not good then they don't maintain the crew. And of course they lose the crew to better boats. And all these little boats that travel between the islands and take the furtherest regions of the country are normally the understaffed and underqualified ones that end up on these boats.
ANNELL HUSBAND: And this boat was, in fact, not even a regular ferry, was it, because you said it belonged to someone who is standing for election?
DW: (Laughs) That's right. This is also another thing, too. People who are actually planning to run elections, they shouldn't use these opportunities to further their causes. It's not good for the communities. They put people's lives at risk. Now, if they had people die, what would they have done? Would they have the money to cover death compensation and if families got angry? And there's a lot of people who lost cargo on that boat, too. I don't know how they're going to recover that.
AH: And speaking of people's lives lost, if that had been the case, incredible that no-one did lose their life.
DW: Yeah. When you look at it, Solomon Islanders are pretty good with water. A lot of women and children were onboard. They were very lucky they didn't sink in the dark. Because if they had sunk in the dark they wouldn't have been able to save everybody onboard, because as least they could see what they were doing and getting off the boat was easy, because they had a lot of children on board. But it's not something that people should take for granted, the fact that we're good swimmers. Especially the people that were on that boat, the region they come from is by the sea. So that shouldn't be something that they should take for granted. It should be first and foremost in ensuring... The Maritime Safety officials should be more rigid with these boat owners and actually charge them. It's just the same as being a vehicle - overloading a truck, driving unsafely. They should treat boats the same and be harsh with them.
AH: According to the paper, this boat was actually told it couldn't leave, but it left without authorisation. Is that right?
DW: That's right. It's always the case. Every time the Marine Department goes in and disallows a boat to leave, eventually the boat owner and the captain decides and then pulls out with everybody on board despite the fact that some might not have tickets and the fact that they're overloaded. And that's what I'm saying - the Marine Department needs to be strengthened. There was a project a few years ago I think the European Union was involved with trying to strengthen all the ports around the country. I don't know if they actually looked at the personnel of the Marine Department to see if they could increase the safety, the monitoring and the regulations of the Marine Department. I think that's where we still have a problem with these things. Then we can also strengthen the shipping sector.
AH: So as far as you know is there going to be any investigation into this incident by the Maritime Safety administration? Have they said anything about that?
DW: Well, the Maritime Department says they're going to be charging them for not adhering to orders for them not to depart. But, you know, we've seen this all before so we're waiting for the Marine Department to actually use its powers and ensure this one is used as an example. Because over the next few days, as we speak, there are more boats taking off and they're still overloaded. So there needs to be some sort of action taken now to ensure that other boat owners take seriously the warnings of Maritime.
AH: And if the Maritime Safety administration does actually have the powers at the moment, but it may not have the enforcing capability...
DW: I think the enforcing is the problem, yes. I think they need to collaborate with police and ensure their orders are enforced at the wharfs and ensuring if somebody doesn't listen or whatever arrests can be made right on the spot to ensure that the boat doesn't leave.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: