A GROUP of government officials was forced to swim ashore after their boat capsized at the height of the storm in waters near Nukudamu Village in Udu Point.
The team was part of the Ministry of Women's trip to Nabouono Village where permanent secretary Dr Joseva Koroivueta declared the village one that had observed zero tolerance of violence against women and children.
The incident happened between 5pm and 6pm on Thursday afternoon as the party made its way back to Lagi landing in Dogotuki.
Acting Commissioner Northern Alipate Bolalevu labelled irresponsible the decision by the government team to visit at the height of the storm. He also confirmed receiving a report of the capsized boat.
"The fact that this is a government team makes the situation sad because they were supposed to be setting example and taking heed of weather warnings that we give out to the public," he said.
"The fact that they went ahead with their tour despite the warning is irresponsible.
"I have always stood by my previous advice and that is — people need to take heed of the weather warnings and respect our natural elements like the sea because these are elements beyond our powers."
Meanwhile, two passengers from the ill-fated trip who wished to remain anonymous described the incident as a frightening one.
One passenger described the experience as scary. "We couldn't see anything out at sea and the winds were strong."
Another passenger said, "We lost all our belongings, phones, shoes and bags.
"Some women who were passengers started crying and were screaming while we made our way to shore."
Nukudamu villager Esala Qaniuci said the nine officials from a third fibreglass boat swam a distance of about 100metres to get to safety.
"Dr Koroivueta and his team had reached Lagi jetty safely while fuel on the second boat ran out and its occupants had to swim to shore too.
"It was the third boat that capsized and the occupants were lucky that it was just close to our village," he said.
"According to the captain who we spoke to, the stop cork for the fibre (boat) had fallen out during the trip and water had rushed into the boat.
"I have been in Nukudamu since I was born and I consider this party very lucky to have made it to land alive."
Mr Qaniuci said the area was well-known for huge and strong waves, especially during bad weather.
"It was lucky that the incident happened during the light of day otherwise it would have been worse.
"The team came to our village and we fed them and kept them in our homes on Thursday night.
"They were given dry clothes."
The nine officials did not sustain any injuries and returned to Labasa yesterday.