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Fisherman disappears

Mere Naleba
Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A MECHANICAL problem had forced the Chinese fishing vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 205 to be anchored in the Tahiti waters, where an iTaukei man who was a crew member fell overboard after consuming alcohol and disappeared without a trace.

The deceased, Tomu Koimoala Toromai, 25, his brother Andrea Are Naoneata, 27, and his namesake Tomu Koimoala, 32, were on the fishing vessel when the incident happened.

This newspaper on March 10, this year had reported the events as told by Mr Naoneata after his family held a memorial service for his younger brother on March 8.

Mr Naoneata has always claimed his brother was thrown overboard but the Fiji Police Force ruled out foul play after conducting investigations on the vessel which arrived in Suva on April 6, almost two months after the incident happened.

Toromai fell overboard the fishing vessel on February 9, and disappeared while his family only came to know that Toromai was never returning home after his brother and namesake arrived in Fiji on March 1 on a different fishing vessel.

A statement released by the parent company of the fishing vessel — Rongcheng Ocean Fishing Company Limited — stated that the fishing vessel decided to continue its operation in the sea area nearby after conducting 72 hours search on the missing fisherman to no avail.

The statement further read the two Fijian men — Naoneata and Koimoala — asked to return to Fiji before the end of their contract which resulted in arrangements made with another foreign vessel heading to Fiji to transport the two men to Suva.

After being berthed at the Port Mua-i-Walu for six days allowing Fiji Police to conduct necessary investigation work, it was concluded that Toromai who was believed to be intoxicated on the day of the incident lost his footing and fell into open sea and disappeared.

The company representative known only as Mr Fu paid a visit to Toromai's parent — Joe Toromai and Eti Benamini — at their Marata Village home in Wailoku where he paid out the remaining salary of Toromai and also paid extra as bereavement leave payout.

Toromai's family received $2054 as salary and bereavement payout.

A police report released to this newspaper stated after investigations were carried out the police ruled out homicide as there were no evidence to support Mr Naoneata and Mr Koimoala's story.

Police had interviewed Captain Zhou Junqi, First Mate/Chief Engineer Zhou Jiadonh, crew members Song Zhuan, Zou Yang, Song Zhuang, Cendi Novian, Hengkis Prabowo Saputro and Fu Qiang and stated all the crew member's evidence were consistent.

Police also concluded Toromai fell overboard and disappeared as he was intoxicated and was incapable of getting assistance and that Tahitian authorities can conduct further investigations as the incident happened in their jurisdiction.

As reported in the police letter to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment the three Fijian men were recruited by the fishing company while the vessel was berthed at the Suva Wharf on December 20, last year.

On the morning of the incident, Toromai and Mr Koimoala (his namesake) had been consuming alcohol while the fishing vessel was anchored in the Tahiti waters after suffering mechanical problems.

According to the statement by the Captain Junqi, the other vessel Lu Rong Yuan Yu 889 was directed to try and assist them fix the mechanical problems.

Captain Junqi said after the problem was fixed, he hosted the Skipper of the other vessel to lunch and they were not celebrating Chinese New Year as stated by Mr Naoneata, who claimed the two skippers were playing mah-jong and also consuming alcohol.

Captain Junqi said in his police interview the two Fijian men had taken a rubber dinghy across to the other vessel and had to be assisted by other crew members on to the Lu Rong Yuan Yu 205 as they were both drunk.

He said he was later notified by a 19-year-old Chinese crew member that the two heavily intoxicated men were causing trouble on the deck.

The captain claims the two men had thrown two buoys into the sea and were trying to push some barrels into the sea but without any success.

He said they also broke the padlock of the storeroom door demanding for whiskey.

He told police that Toromai was standing on an ice bucket on the left side of the vessel and fell overboard when the vessel started to sway because of rough seas.

The captain further stated attempts by another crew member Song Zhuan, 25, of China to save Toromai by throwing a buoy to him were futile as he was too drunk to catch the buoy.

He ended his statement by saying the crew searched for Toromai for three days and three nights without success.

The two were also reported to have assaulted the captain after he tried to stop them from damaging items on the vessel.

"There is overwhelming evidence that the victim was drunk at the time of the incident and he was standing and/or dancing on an overturned barrel/bucket on the front part of the vessel," the police report stated.

"The sea was rough and when a wave struck the vessel, he lost his footing and fell overboard never to be seen again."

Fact File

By Mere Naleba

INVESTIGATION FINDINGS

* There are no witnesses of the alleged murder of Tomu Koimoala Toromai as suspected by his brother and cousin;

* Toromai's body has never been recovered, except for the fact he is missing at sea, he will be referred to as the victim;

* The only potential witness was his namesake but he was too drunk to notice anything;

* There is overwhelming evidence that Toromai was too drunk and lost his footing while dancing/standing on an overturned barrel/bucket on the front part of the vessel;

* There is no evidence of police finding any timber on board the vessel which was used by first engineer to strike Mr Koimoala;

* Mr Koimoala has not tendered any medical report to support his claims of being assaulted by some crew members;

* All eye-witnesses agreed that the victim was dancing and yelling while standing on an overturned bucket before a wave hit their vessel causing him to fall overboard;

* None of the crew members interviewed by police suspected of foul play; and

* The incident occurred in Tahiti which is a Sovereign State and is responsible to prevent, detect crime(s) committed within its borders as well as prosecute the offender(s), irrespective of their nationality.





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