‘Deal with the issues’

Passengers wait at the Nabouwalu Jetty to find out if they were among those to board the boat. Failing that, they had to return to Savusavu or Labasa. Picture: ANA MADIGIBULI

Passengers wait at the Nabouwalu Jetty to find out if they were among those to board the boat. Failing that, they had to return to Savusavu or Labasa. Picture: ANA MADIGIBULI

THE Consumer Council of Fiji is calling on shipping companies in Fiji to have a systematic process in place to deal with inter-island shipping travel issues.

Even with shipping companies boosting their fleet and taking on new routes, there is still a huge room for improvement on service delivery.

This was highlighted by Consumer Council of Fiji chief executive officer Premila Kumar when answering questions sent by this newspaper about shipping services in Fiji.

Issues about poor shipping services were raised last week by passengers who booked (inter-island) tickets with Patterson Brothers Shipping Company Ltd.

Ms Kumar said the council had received complaints about the shipping service incident via its toll free number 155.

“The council does not condone failure by the company to inform its passengers of changes in schedules. While we understand its unforeseen circumstances, but that does not take away service provider responsibility,” she said.

“In any such event, the service provider should explore all avenues possible to inform its customers regarding the changes. It’s much easier now to inform travellers by text messages, Skype or Viber.

“When consumers fail to turn up for their trip, the service provider usually deducts 25 per cent cost at the consumer’s expense. However when the company cancels the trip they take minimal action to pacify, notify or cover the consumers’ expenses.”

She said for complaints lodged with the council, the matters were raised with the service provider and the council sought to solve the matter through mediation.

“However in this case, we encourage consumers to take their case to the Small Claims Tribunal,” she said.

“The council noted some passengers of the ship that ran aground last week Monday (Easter Monday) recently had lost their luggage because they were transferred to another vessel without their cargo. There should be a systematic process in place to deal with inter-island shipping travel issues within Fiji.

“The issues raised are not new and have been recurrent in the past years. The inter-island shipping travel needs to be overhauled to make them accountable.

“Why inter island shipping is treated differently to airlines or bus travels?

“We don’t see any policy put in place to make shipping companies responsible and accountable. We feel there could be more concerted effort by the stakeholders involved to improve their services.”

In regards to shipping companies allowing boat transfers to other shipping companies that are available when a particular company does not deliver on time, Ms Kumar said the council feels companies must consider the consumers’ plight when encountering such situations.

“For consumers who seek to travel on another vessel, the service provider should consider waiving the cancellation free and provide a full refund to the consumer to ensure they have the liberty to travel with a different company should they wish to,” she said.

She said it was important that the shipping company arrange for consumer travels by liaising with other shipping companies.

Company spokesperson David Patterson, highlighting the boat transfer issues faced that particular week, said it was important to note the series of incidents that occurred; adverse weather, it was an Easter weekend holiday, mechanical issues, emergency evacuation exercise compounded their situation.

“Our phone lines were inundated with calls from passengers, media, government personnel and nosy members of the public that were claiming to be representatives of government authorities,” he said.

“These events heavily impacted our ability to contact passengers for organising as our staff members were also scrambling to reply to frustrated passengers.

“We have held a meeting, gone through all of the events and found ways to mitigate, streamline and better prepare for extreme and compounded situations, like the one we have just been through.”

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