Editorial comment – Remove those derelicts

Derelict vessels at Draunibota Bay in Lami. Picture: JONA KONATACI/FILE

On this day back in 2014 we highlighted the issue of derelict vessels that littered the Suva Harbour.

It is still relevant today! We suggested that if things continued the way they were going then, the people of Suva had to be prepared to see ships of all sizes, shapes and colours actually clog the harbour.

That year we recorded 116 ships berthed in the harbour. Fishing vessels berthed in the Suva Harbour had doubled in just two months, and with overseas companies opting to berth in Fiji during the off-season, the number rose.

Records at the time confirmed that in the six months leading up to March of 2014, more Asian fishing vessels had started berthing in the harbour, and were tied up in groups of four or more vessels.

When questioned, Harbour Master at the time, Captain Joji Takape said some ships initially came into Suva to use the slipway as the one in Pagopago, American Samoa was damaged. He said some “don’t even fish in Fiji waters”.

We learnt that their parent companies found it cheaper to berth here in the off-season rather than go back to China or Korea. Fiji Ports Corporation Ltd’s general manager operations at the time Eminoni Kurusiga suggested Fiji’s laws were silent on the number of ships permitted in our harbour at any time.

However, Fiji’s environmental laws, he said, were quite clear. Dumping of waste into Fiji waters is prohibited and such action is considered even more serious if marine life is harmed.

In May last year, attorney-general and minister for economy at the time, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said the estimated cost to remove derelict ships in Suva Harbour, Lautoka Harbour and Levuka, was about $59 million. The cost, he said, was enormous.

“A lot of these ships have local owners and they, sort of, sunk it and disappeared, so these companies do not even exist. That is the state of affairs,” he revealed.

By then there were 17 derelict vessels and 32 wrecks in the Suva Harbour, and the Lautoka and Levuka Port areas.

Back in 2018, the revelation that “funding constraints” were hindering the removal of derelict vessels in Suva Harbour did raise some concern at the time.

That year, Fiji Ports Corporation Ltd CEO Vajira Piyasena said there were nine vessels submerged within the harbour.

Their removal, he said, was subject to availability of funds. Pacific Towing Ltd, a Papua New Guinea-based company, as well as Perrott Salvage Pty Ltd Australia, he said, was identified to carry out assessment work which included the removal of the MV Southern Phoenix. Acquiring funds was the biggest challenge though.

In 2017, he said FPCL paid more than $220,000 to remove two vessels — MV Sea Love and MV Tovuto.

It cost $85,000 to winch the partially submerged Sea Love to dry ground. The Tovuto was towed and scuttled 1.4 miles south-west of the main Suva passage. We say derelicts that litter the harbour should be removed.

It makes sense that we should put in place stringent measures that will protect our harbour well into the future.

Otherwise, we may just as well send out a memo suggesting we have a harbour for derelict vessels.

Given the location of the Suva Harbour, and the availability of appropriate facilities for repair and maintenance work for vessels, resupply of rations, and proximity to fishing grounds in the region, companies will continue to direct their vessels this way.

We hope the beauty of the Suva Harbour will not be overtaken by derelict vessels.

These derelict vessels pose a threat to other ships using the harbour and are a major environmental issue.

They are ugly and are eyesores. Derelict vessels reflect badly on us when we talk about protecting our environment and our waterfront.

We call on the powers that be to put their foot down and we hope that owners of such vessels will get the message that we value our marine resources and harbour.

They must remove these rusty, ugly, old iron waste that were once vessels.

We must protect our environment, and if it means putting in place very tough laws and requirements to use our harbour in the future, then so be it!

More Stories