Start Rarawai, says cane lorry drivers

The Fiji Labour Party has called for an investigation into two breakdowns at the Fiji Sugar Corporation's Lautoka mill this week. Picture: REINAL CHAND

START the Rarawai mill early.

This was the message from frustrated Rakiraki cane lorry drivers who spent more than 12 hours queued up at the Lautoka mill yard.

The drivers vented their frustration after the second stoppage at the mill this week.

According to the drivers, the factory grounded to a halt about 7.45pm on Thursday night.

The mill also suffered an eight-hour stoppage on Wednesday this week.

The Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) said that stoppage was caused by a boiler feeder problem which affected the supply of bagasse to the mill’s boilers which powered the factory.

Among the lorry drivers in Lautoka yesterday was Kolinio Ruve from Nalawa, Ra.

He said the stoppages so early into the crushing season were frustrating.

“It would be better if they restarted the Rarawai mill so drivers from Ra, Tavua and Ba wouldn’t have to travel to Lautoka,” he said.

“At the moment, lorries from all over the West are coming to Lautoka and that’s why it gets crowded so much.”

Another driver, Praveen Chand, said he had been waiting at the mill since 6am on Thursday.

He said after the stoppage, lorry drivers were informed the mill would be operational by Friday morning.

Mr Chand, who travelled from Ellington, Rakiraki, said about 50 drivers from Rakiraki were affected as other costs had started to build up.

Rajnesh Sharma, who travelled almost five hours from Vunikavikaloa, Ra, to the Lautoka mill, said it was difficult to travel from Ra and wait for hours.

“I arrived here at 9.30 last night (Thursday) and I have been waiting since,” he said.

Viliame Nanao from Ba said it was frustrating because many of the drivers had not bathed and had to go hungry waiting for the mill to restart.

“At first, they told us the mill would start soon and they keep changing the times and this is very frustrating for us,” he said.

In a statement issued yesterday, the Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) said the mill had experienced a gearbox failure yesterday after crushing continuously since early Thursday morning. “Repairs are in progress but are complicated by the location of this unit on the top level of the factory,” the statement said.

“A replacement gearbox will be lifted into position by a high lift crane and installation will be completed overnight.

“Taking safety issues and precautions into account, factory operations have been suspended and FSC has taken the decision to temporarily cease crushing to enable engineers to replace the gearbox completely. “The mill will resume crushing tomorrow morning (today).

“FSC has advised growers through their sector teams to delay cane deliveries to the Lautoka mill until tomorrow morning (today). Lorry drivers who are already at the mill have been given an option to leave their trucks at the mill and be transported to their homes and back to the mill tomorrow. If they prefer to remain at the mill, their welfare will be taken care of.

“FSC apologises for the inconvenience caused and is committed to getting its Lautoka mill up and running steadily in the shortest practical time.”

According to FSC, field staff will contact affected cane farmers from July 9 to assess the impact of this one-off decision on harvesting operations.