Anger over mill breakdown

Labasa Cane Lorry Association president Mohammed Janab, closest to camera, with his members sharing food provided by FSC last week. Picture: SERAFINA SILAITOGA

MORE than 260 lorry drivers queued up at the Lautoka mill yard — some waiting since Sunday evening — vented their frustration after the factory suffered its fourth mechanical breakdown in just over two weeks.

Poor sanitation facilities, insufficient meals and exposure to mosquitoes and the elements were among some of the many issues they voiced when The Fiji Times visited the mill yard at midday yesterday.

They also said the Fiji Sugar Corporation should focus on fixing the mill instead of trying to give a positive spin to the continuous stoppages.

Drivers said they had done less than half of the trips and had lost wages. “By now we should have moved 20 loads but most of us have only made six trips,” the drivers said.

While many welcomed the $5 a tonne compensation announced yesterday by the FSC, farmers and lorry owners affected by Lautoka mill stoppages said they preferred if the mill was fixed.

Lorry owners who were also farmers said they were being punished twice for events beyond their control.

“Forget about the cost to our cane business, some of us are spending two to three days away from our families. “How are you going to put a dollar value to that? “There are no shower facilities here and some of us have been here since Sunday night and the food is terrible. “We really do not know how long this will continue and how long we can put up with this.”

The Lautoka mill developed problems on Sunday evening and lorry drivers were informed that it would restart 1pm Monday.

However, the mill began crushing at about 6pm and stopped again about midnight.

FSC issued a statement saying it had conducted a scheduled stop but maintenance had taken longer than expected.

Yesterday FSC CEO Graham Clark said they ran out of cane following a good crush during the weekend.

“We ran out of cane so we decided to take a scheduled stop until supply built up again and that extended for a day,” he said.

A lot of work was done on maintenance, but people are saying, there’s seawater flooding in the mill, I don’t know where that came from.

“There was water in a carrier that we had to pump out, we do that normally. Someone said the boiler was leaking. Where these stories are coming from, I do not know. “Having said that, we started up again and then we found that a cable from a rail cart got into the cane and it got caught in the factory.”

He said this was difficult to stop and had put strain on the motor too.

“It’s all related but we got through that and we started again this morning (yesterday). Our biggest issue is fuel, we’re trying to get a continuous flow of fuel so it might be stop-start operations today (yesterday).”

Mr Clark said the mill had crushed 5400 tonnes of cane and served over 420 lorries last weekend.

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