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Harbour hazard

Shalveen Chand
Monday, March 24, 2014

FISHING ships berthed in the Suva Harbour have doubled in just two months, and with overseas companies opting to berth in Fiji during the off-season, this number could increase.

As of last Friday, 116 ships are berthed in the harbour.

In the past six months, Asian fishing vessels started berthing in the harbour, making what was once a clear unobstructed view to Lami filled with ships berthed in groups of more than four.

Harbour master Captain Joji Takape said the ships initially came into Suva to use the slipway as the one in Pagopago, American Samoa is damaged.

"Some of the boats don't even fish in Fiji waters. Their parent companies find it cheaper for these boats to berth in Fiji in the off-season rather than go back to China or Korea," he said.

"We anticipate them gone by next month."

Fiji Ports Corporation Limited's general manager operations Eminoni Kurusiga said they did not directly deal with the ships but with their shipping agents.

"In the case they abandon the ship or do something that contravenes the law, FPCL will hold their agents accountable," Mr Kurusiga said.

"Let me point out that Fiji's laws are silent on the number of ships permitted in our harbour at any time."

When asked about the environmental dangers posed by such a large number of ships in the harbour, Mr Kurusiga said Fiji's environmental laws were quite clear.

According to the law, dumping of waste into Fiji waters is prohibited, such action is considered even more serious if marine life is harmed.

Last week, a Korean vessel caught fire with no one on board; the vessel was later towed to the reef. There is still no clarification from the Maritime Safety Authority of Fiji or FPCL as to what will happen to the boat, and if there are contingency plans should the shipowners deliberately abandon or sink the ship.

Trinidad and Tobago has passed laws in this regard which doesn't allow ships to berth more than the required time.

This happened after shipowners deliberately made the ships derelict.

In the Suva Harbour, the numbers of derelict vessels has increased, making it costly to salvage them.

Apart from the danger posed to the environment with the dumping of waste into the ocean, there is also the question of the movement of people and stock to and from these ships to the mainland without border checks.

Police spokesman Inspector Atunaisa Sokomuri said they do patrol the area but not that often.

FRCA boss Jitoko Tikoleveu said they only dealt with the ships if it's a Customs matter and they had not been able to check these ships because they didn't have a boat.

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