A FAMILY was struck by double tragedy yesterday when the casket of a deceased loved one sank to the bottom of the ocean after the boat they were travelling in capsized in rough seas.
The entourage of more than 10 — including a toddler — was fortunate that a team of Lautoka fishermen was nearby to rescue them.
They were on their way to Namara Village on Waya Lailai.
According to the fishermen, the early morning incident happened in waters near Savala Island, off the Lautoka Coast.
The Fiji Times caught up with the family later in the day but they refused to comment on the circumstances surrounding their need to travel when a rough seas weather forecast was in force.
In an interview with The Fiji Times, rescuers Rajesh Kumar, Rupeni Turaga and Iliesa Tawake said they were on their way back to Lautoka from a fishing trip in Yasawa when they saw an empty coffin floating.
"At first we thought it was a sea burial but as we approached we saw a capsized boat near Savala Island," said Mr Turaga.
"In fact, we were at Vomo Island when we heard the weather bulletin — this made us come back to Lautoka after four days of fishing.
"They told us they were on their way to a village in Yasawa. We were shocked they were travelling in rough seas. By the time we found them a fibreglass boat that was already there transported some of the passengers to the mainland."
Mr Turaga said they rescued some of the travellers who were sheltering at Savala Island.
"The small girl was there on the island, she was shivering from the cold. They were luck they were near an island when the boat capsized, that allowed some of them to swim and wait for assistance."
Namara villager Ifereimi Jeke said relatives conducted the funeral service yesterday without a body.
"It's unfortunate. We went ahead and held the service," he said.
"It's lucky no life was lost during the incident at sea."
West Police spokesperson Naina Ragigia confirmed the incident but said no official complaint was lodged.
"We have received a report on our emergency line but no official complaint has been lodged," said Ms Ragigia.
"It's sad to see people failing to obey simple rules which concern their safety and police will charge those responsible for disobeying orders.
"We had issued warnings for the safety of the people. Now they will be haunted by the wrong decisions they made."
Ms Ragigia said there were facilities available to store the deceased so the families should have used good judgement and waited for the weather to improve.