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Heavy metal problem

Tevita Vuibau
Tuesday, December 25, 2012

SUVA harbour is beset by the problem of derelict vessels.

The problem is one that is not new, some of the derelicts in the harbour have been there for a number of years and attempts in the past managed to clean up some of the mess.

But the derelict vessels slowly started to reappear in the harbour.

At the moment there are about 20 wrecks in and along the shores of Suva Harbour and the Bay of Islands off Lami. These are posing threats not only to local vessels, but international ones as well. The vessels also threaten the environment and are a constant eyesore.

Repeated attempts by concerned parties to get the authorities to clear up the harbour have often not been successful. The Suva Harbour Foundation is one of these parties.

Foundation member Bob Gillett says that the problem is one that can be attributed to bureaucratic inertia.

"The Fiji Ports Corporation has the legal power, when they see a boat anchored—like off Mosquito Island for a year and it's getting lower and lower into the water, and its beginning to list and go down.

"They have the power under part eight of the Sea Ports Management Act 2005, they have the authority. All they have to do is put a notice on the vessel for a certain number of days and then they can tow it, they can take it outside the harbour and they can sink it or they can sell it.

"Our problem is that they have not often used that power when advised of a sinking boat," Mr Gillett stated.

Under the Sea Ports Management Act of 2005 the Ports Authority with the approval of the Board of Directors and the chief executive officer may order the removal of any derelict or dangerous vessel from a port or the approaches to a port.

"They could have pulled the boat off the reef for a couple of hundred dollars. I suspect that it's just pure bureaucratic inertia, they have their own program and this just gets very little priority," he lamented.

Mr Gillett acknowledged that there had been efforts to clean up the vessels in the harbour however he remained adamant that it would be much easier to tow the vessels out before they sink rather than after.

"If it sinks outside the harbour it's less of a problem, but if it sinks near Mosquito Island—a recreational area transited by local vessels—it becomes more problematic."

However the FPCL refuted Mr Gillett's claims that they were not exercising their powers under the Sea Ports Management Act.

FPCL ports operations general manager Eminoni Kurusiga said the issue of derelict vessels in the Suva Harbour was the responsibility of FPCL but he added the issue was not all black and white.

"Derelicts in the harbour is currently Fiji Ports' responsibility. However you need to understand from the onset the definition of a derelict vessel as per the Sea Port Management Regulation 2008," Mr Kurusiga said.

"A derelict vessel as per our regulation refers to a vessel that has been unmanned for up to 21 days. Unmanned in the sense that there is an absence of minimum number of crew on board.

"A minimum number is required so that when we (Fiji Ports) request that particular vessel to move it has to do so," Mr Kurusiga said.

Mr Kurusiga also said not all derelict vessels could be termed dangerous.

"May be a dangerous vessel is a wrecked vessel—unfortunately we don't have any definition on dangerous or wrecked vessel in our regulation."

In spite of this gap in the act, Mr Kurusiga maintained that the current legislation was adequate to deal with derelict and dangerous vessels in the harbour.

He added that since there was no definition for dangerous or wrecked vessels, he did not have the total number of those in the Suva Harbour.

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