Monday, 12 May 2014

The worst sea tragedy — Kadavulevu

There have been many disasters in Fiji waters that have claimed a few hundred lives.

Of all, the capsizing of the inter-island vessel Kadavulevu in 1964 is believed to be the worst as it claimed 89 lives and left only three survivors.

Before the Kadavulevu tragedy, the destruction of the Syria at Nasilai Reef on the night of May 11, 1884 was regarded as the worst shipping tragedy in Fiji waters.

The 1010 tonne ship ran aground on the reef and broke into two, claiming 59 lives and throwing more than 200 survivors in rough seas.

Following the Kadavulevu tragedy, the Makogai and the inter-island vessel Uluilakeba got caught in Cyclone Lottie in 1973 and capsized, jointly claiming more than 80 lives.

More than a decade after Cyclone Lottie had wreaked havoc in the country, the Talofa capsized in waters off Yasawa-i-Rara in 1986, in which eight people died.

In 1995, the country was shocked when a boat carrying two people capsized between Labasa and Cikobia, leaving 21 people dead and one survivor.

The Ovalau tragedy in 2003 did not claim any lives but millions of dollars worth of heavy machinery, trucks and cargo were lost in Bligh Waters.

As part of a flashback into major sea disasters in Fiji, today we bring you excerpts from The Fiji Times of yesteryears on the Kadavulevu tragedy. A Fijian song was also written about it.

IT was March 29, 1964, when the inter-island vessel left an outer island.

There were 92 people on board the Kadavulevu, including passengers and crew, and it was reportedly sailing back to Suva.

On the front page of the April 2, 1964 edition, this newspaper reported the vessel had sunk in the Koro Sea just before midnight on March 29.

Seini Wakesa, 43, who had survived the disaster, relayed the tragic news after being washed ashore on Nosoata Island at the mouth of the Rewa River on April 1.

This newspaper had reported then that the passengers and crew clung to the side of the overturned ship but within minutes a fire broke out and they were forced to swim away.

It was also reported Ms Wakesa and three others hurriedly built a raft from debris and pushed away from the burning hull of the vessel.

After midday on April 1, 1964, the raft hit the reef near Nasilai and broke up, forcing Ms Wakesa to start swimming for her life, with no knowledge of the others who were with her.

It was reported the Kadavulevu was a wooden-hulled auxiliary schooner that was 45 feet long with a weight of 23.31 tonnes and was licensed to carry 29 passengers in Fiji waters.

On the front page of the April 3 edition, this newspaper reported the death toll from the tragedy would be more than 70.

Also, it was reported two more survivors — Viliame Qelo, 10, of Nasonini in Suva and Nina Rareba, 49, of Vatuwaqa in Suva were found, bringing the number of survivors to three.

The survivors had been in the water for a maximum of three and a half days without food and drinking water before they were found.

It was also reported that more than 70 passengers in the vessel were returning from a large gathering on Nairai Island in the Lomaiviti Group.

On the front page of the April 4 edition, this newspaper reported that hopes were fading to find other survivors from the tragedy.

The owner of the vessel Samson Lee and his brother Peter Lee were also said to have been on board the Kadavulevu when it capsized and caught fire. Survivors of the tragedy told this newspaper then that they sang hymns and prayed while swimming and trying to reach land.

On page three of the same day's edition, this newspaper released the first list of people who were on board the inter-island vessel when tragedy struck.

Among them were several women and children, most of whose bodies were never found despite days of aerial and sea search.

This newspaper continued to report on the developments then, including calls for a special fund for the victims families and calls for an inquiry into the disaster.

In the April 9 edition of this newspaper, the Fiji Marine Board invited anybody with evidence that could assist in the inquiry into the disaster to submit their names. Also, it was reported in the same edition that Samisoni Dakunivosa, 22, did not travel on the vessel from Nairai to Suva because it was overcrowded and the weather was bad.

On Tuesday, April 21, 1964, this newspaper reported on the start of an inquiry into the Kadavulevu tragedy.

The master of the vessel Yacomai, Misaele Tiko told the Fiji Marine Board inquiry that the captain of the Kadavulevu, its owner and others had an argument before it left Suva for Nairai on the night of March 26. Ms Wakesa told the inquiry, as reported in the April 22 edition, that she prayed to God to give her strength while she was in the raft she and others had made and while swimming.

She also told the inquiry about the fire which reportedly broke out after the boat had tilted to its side in open seas.

On the front page of the April 23 edition, this newspaper reported on the findings of the Fiji Marine Board inquiry into the tragedy.

The inquiry found that the primary cause of the Kadavulevu capsizing was gross overloading of passengers, most of whom were on the cabin top and in the main cabin.

It found that the adverse weather and sea conditions at the time of the accident, together with the gross overloading, were contributing factors to the vessel foundering but should not be confused with the primary cause — gross overloading with many people on the top parts of the Kadavulevu.

The marine board said in its opinion, there was not sufficient evidence to show the steering gear was defective and it was therefore not considered to be a contributing factor in the accident.

Also, the board considered a formal investigation into the loss of the Kadavulevu to be requisite and expedient. It expressed its regret at the loss of lives and extended its sympathy to the victims' relatives.

During the inquiry, the board heard from 16 witnesses, including the three survivors of the tragic incident.

On April 24, this newspaper reported that pieces of wreckage, mats, pillows and a blanket from the vessel had been washed up on the beach near two villages on Vatulele Island.

While the tragic loss of several lives resulted in a lot of sad faces, what made things more difficult for the victims' families was the fact that many bodies were never recovered.

Monday 12 May 2014


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