ABOUT 400 ferry passengers on Vanua Levu spent their night on the streets of Savusavu looking for a place to sleep after the MV Lomaiviti Princess failed to pick them up on Saturday.
The passengers, some of whom travelled from as far as Saqani, Nakobo and Labasa, were stranded for about 24 hours at the Savusavu jetty awaiting the arrival of the vessel.
The Fiji Times visited the town yesterday only to find passengers wandering around the bus stand, streets, park and the jetty with their luggage.
A frustrated passenger, Josua Musunavanua, said he arrived at the jetty at 5pm on Saturday because the reporting time on his ticket was 12.30am.
"I came in the last bus from Saqani and headed directly to the wharf where I was joined by other passengers," he said.
"We waited there for some time and after 12.30am the agent for Goundar Shipping here in Savusavu came to tell us that the boat had travelled directly to Suva after picking passengers from Taveuni.
"There was a big commotion at the jetty as passengers demanded a valid reason why they were not part of the journey.
"Most of us just slept in the bus stand, some at the jetty and others had to fork out extra money to pay for hotel rooms. Some passengers even went to some church buildings to sleep there."
Mr Musunavanua said the agent only brought a few food and drinks which was not enough for everyone.
"We were told that the ship was full to its capacity and that's why it couldn't pick us up in Savusavu. But this shouldn't have been the case as we are not at fault," he added.
Another passenger, Abhay Chand, agreed the situation was frustrating.
"I have to attend a week-long conference beginning on Monday in Suva and I know I will be late for it because of the vessel's sketchy schedule," he said.
"The night was cold and some babies and children were crying because it was also drizzling. It's just so sad because some of us were lying on the streets while others knocked on their relative's doors for a sleepover.
"It's only proper for the authorities to advise us prior to such situations so that we can sort ourselves out and opt for other means of transportation. At least, people don't have to be stranded and worry about their travel."
In response, MV Lomaiviti Princess owner George Goundar said the ship reached Suva yesterday morning at around 10am, offloaded the passengers from Taveuni and headed back to Savusavu.
"More than 800 passengers were loaded from Taveuni on Saturday night and it was impossible to stop in Savusavu because the boat almost reached its capacity," he said.
"Some of the passengers in Taveuni had paid their tickets last week and they decided to travel in the weekend. It was really difficult to refuse our service to them because they just went straight into the vessel.
"We decided to come straight to Suva and avoid Savusavu because it will be impossible to allow only 100 passengers in because there were a lot of people waiting in Savusavu.
"This is a very busy season for us because there are a lot of events such as the Kaji rugby, church conference and the Hibiscus Festival happening on Viti Levu and the demand for our service is very high," he said.
Mr Goundar said the passengers were provided with food and drinks by their agent in Savusavu.
"All our ships are in full operation given our busy schedules and we are doing everything we can to provide the available services we can." The vessel is expected to reach Suva today.