Returning home – Maritime travel reopens after 8 months

People making their way to board the inter island vessel at Port Mua-i-Walu 2 in Suva Picture: JONA KONATACI

Last week more than 100 passengers travelled home on the first inter-island passenger voyage to Lau after eight months of being stuck on Viti Levu.

This was after Fiji’s travel restrictions to maritime islands were eased. Passengers stood queued up braving the scorching sun at Port Mua-i-Walu 2 in Walu Bay just to get on board the Goundar Shipping Services Lomaiviti Princess VI that was scheduled to travel to Vanuavatu, Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo, Namuka and Kabara in Lau.

Passengers were happy to be able to travel again after a long time. Sefanaia Vulivolatabu, who was at the wharf to farewell his wife, said he was happy that the restrictions were eased as it allowed his wife to travel to the islands to meet his children. Mr Vulivolatabu said his wife, who was travelling to Korotolu Village in Moce, Lau, was there early like many passengers travelling that day because it was something they had been thinking about for a long time.

“It is a wonderful moment for us, especially my wife who is able to travel back to the village after eight months,” he said.

“She will be reunited shortly with our children. It has been hard for the both of us as we have been away from them for too long.

“With my wife returning to the island, I know things will run smoothly and I’m grateful to our older children and relatives for looking after the rest of the kids while we were stuck in Suva.”

Since April 2021, inter-island travel had been restricted and quarantine conditions had been placed to ensure that Fiji’s second wave of COVID-19 had limited spread beyond Viti Levu.

Ministry of Health and Medical Services, permanent secretary Dr James Fong on November 12 said the policy in place had been extremely successful in preventing any major outbreak in Vanua Levu and to maritime island communities.

Dr Fong this month said individuals could travel from Viti Levu to Vanua Levu and maritime islands and vice-versa under risk reduction protocols.

“This means the quarantine requirement will be removed,” he said.

“However travel will be limited to fully vaccinated persons, passenger capacity on shipping vessels will be restricted and additional measures will be taken to ensure that all COVID-19 safe measures are stringently enforced during boarding and transit and while disembarking.

“Registration of passengers will no longer be required before travelling.”

The vessel departed for the islands on Wednesday (November 17) afternoon. It was the first vessel to carry passengers to Lau after eight months of only cargo movements to the islands.

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