Fiji Navy officers suffered emotional stress, Court Martial hears

Fiji Navy's Lt Ben Salacakau at the court martial yesterday. Picture: RAMA

FOUR Navy officers responsible for the grounding of Fiji’s naval ship (RFNS) Kiro today emotionally articulated how they suffered severe emotional stress after the incident.

Apart from the six character witnesses that mitigated on behalf of the officers, the four – Lieutenant Commander Saula Tuilevuka, Lieutenant Samuela Cikaitoga, Lieutenant Ben Salacakau and Ensign Mike Brown – also took the witness stand during the court martial.

The four were charged contrary to Section 29 A(b) of the Army Act 1955.

The officers briefly stated that the incident would be embedded in their mind for the rest of their lives.

They said despite the stress, they continued to work to ensure that they performed their duties well.

The court martial was also informed that the officers had not undergone any form of counselling following the incident.

Lieutenant Commander Saula Tuilevuka

Fiji Navy Commander John Fox was the character witness for Lieutenant Commander Saula Tuilevuka.

He described Lt-Cmdr Tuilevuka as a reliable officer who performed his duties well.

Commander Fox said Lt-Cmdr Tuilevuka was a valuable personnel of the Fiji Navy and his record showed how he rose to the ranks during his 25 years of service.

Lt-Cmdr Tuilevuka in his mitigation said this was the first serious offence he had committed during his service and he regretted it.

The 40-year-old senior officer said he had never run a vessel aground and he pleaded with the court martial to consider his good conduct and professional record.

Lt-Cmdr Tuilevuka while holding the appointment of Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) failed to submit a report to Head Quarters Navy on the Operational Sea Check of the RFNS Kiro.

Lieutenant Samuela Cikaitoga

Fiji Navy Fleet Operations Officer Commander Timoci Natuva who mitigated on behalf of Lieutenant Samuela Cikaitoga said the senior officer was very calm and an experienced personnel of the Fiji Navy.

Commander Natuva also briefly described how Lt Cikaitoga was always exceptional in command.

He said Lt Cikaitoga was instrumental in ensuring the safe return of the RFNS Kiro and its sailors to Lautoka when they encountered Category 5 Cyclone Winston out at sea in February 2016.

Commander Natuva said it would be a liability for the Fiji Navy if they lost Lt Cikaitoga.

Lt Cikaitoga apologised for his actions and pleaded with the court to consider his good character and professional conduct.

Lt Cikaitoga while holding the appointment of commanding officer, failed to train the navigation officer, Ensign Brown, to be familiar with the ship’s navigation equipment. While holding the appointment of commanding officer, he failed to fill his order book as his duty required him to do so. While holding the appointment of commanding officer, Lt Cikaitoga gave approval to the navigator to proceed with the initial plan without paying attention to the requirement of regulation on safety clearance for coastal navigation.

Lieutenant Ben Salacakau

Character witness Lieutenant-Commander Isoa Tokalauvere described Lieutenant Ben Salacakau as a very hard and diligent worker.

Lieutenant-Commander Isoa Tokalauvere said the senior officer was known as a “jack of all trade” because he took up two to three positions in the Fiji Navy and he never complained.

He also said Lt Salacakau said he was sorry for his action. He apologised to all the naval officers and said his action had tarnished the colourful reputation of the organisation.

He said the incident had not only affected him but also his family.

Lt Salacakau said the incident was unintentional and he was sorry.

He also stated that he was the sole bread winner of his family and extended family.

Lt Salacakau while holding the appointment of executive officer, failed to ensure that the RFNS Kiro night order book was handed to the commanding officer. This was his duty as the most senior watchkeeper prior to briefing the rest of the officer of the watch onboard.

Ensign Mike Brown

Fiji Navy Lieutenant Sairusi Colati described the young officer as an intellectual and hardworking person.

He said this was how Ensign Brown continued to outshine the other officers.

He said he had undergone various training in Fiji and New Zealand and had graduated.

Ensign Brown while taking the witness stand said it took him time to regain his strength and navigate his life back to normal after the incident.

He said the emotional distress was too much because he had to learn to live and accept what other people said about him.

He said the experience was dreadful and he would remember it for the rest of his life.

The young officer pleaded with the court martial to help him consider the situation as a way forward for him.

He said he would use the example of Belcher Rock to remind him about how he had to climb that rock and see what was ahead of him and how the experience has taught him to be strong.

Ensign Brown while holding the appointment of navigation officer neglected to alter its course to avoid grounding the vessel on Belcher Rock.

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Judge Advocate and former High Court judge Lieutenant Colonel Jiten Singh today instructed the prosecution to file their sentencing submission and present it in the court martial next week Tuesday.

He said it was imperative for the accused person to hear what the prosecution had to say.