Adhere to advice

Goundar Shipping workers trying to dock the new MV Lomaiviti Princess 8 at the Narain Jetty in Suva. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU/FILE

IT’S official! From 12am today there will be no passenger carriage or movement on inter-island ships throughout Fiji until further notice.

That’s the word from the Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Disaster Management and Meteorological Services, in consultation with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

This is in line with Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama’s announcement earlier this week. Restrictions cover all inter-island shipping movements. Only freight cargo services will continue during this time.

There is also a restriction of movement for small craft and yacht. Now this is where attention must be focused.

Given that island-hopping is part and parcel of life in our scattered islands, there will have to be a clear message sent out to operators of fibreglass open punts.

It is common knowledge that these boats make fast crossings to our outer islands, carrying cargo and passengers. It’s a common enough feature of life in the islands.

Passengers hook up with an operator, pay up and brave the crossing from their island to the Capital City for instance.

Aside from prioritising safety at sea, there is now the added bit about keeping COVID-19 at bay. Inter-island travel is risky business for many people. They brave the elements to go island-hopping.

It is a fact that people are still arriving in the Capital City via fibreglass boats.

They brave the elements to get to Viti Levu. For many of them, waiting for the scheduled vessel to arrive at their island jetty can be frustrating.

Trips on fast fibreglass boats can take just up to two hours or so before they hit landfall, enough time for them to get to the urban centres, do their shopping, attend to urgent matters and prepare to head back home a day or two later.

One of the key factors that drives this business is time, or, lack of consistency in services offered by some shipping companies. The location of our islands and distances that have to be travelled will always ensure there is a need for a shipping service, but it has to be one that meets the needs of travellers.

In the face of this scenario, let’s raise the issue of common sense and safety first. Now that there is a clear directive for all travel to stop, attention must also be focused on small boat operators. Now that vessels are under a directive to cut back on operations, there will no doubt be a demand by people who are prepared to ignore them, and play Russian roulette with their lives, skirting the waves back home.

They will disregard their own safety, throw caution to the wind, ignore warnings, and ignore the fact that we have a battle to fight against this COVID-19 pandemic. We urge fibreglass boat operators to pull back, and join the fight against the common enemy – COVID-19. We are all in this fight, together.

Unity, at this time, carries weight. Unity will save lives. Meanwhile, in its situation report yesterday, the World Health Organization stated there were two new countries/territories/areas from the Region of the Americas (2) that reported cases of COVID-19. The total global number of COVID-19 cases has surpassed 500,000.

The number of countries implementing additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic, the WHO stated, had increased since the declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization launched a Crisis Committee to review the impact of the outbreak on the aviation, shipping and tourism sectors and propose innovative solutions for recovery.

Let’s continue to adhere to advice. Let’s wash our hands often with soap and water, or with hand sanitisers. Let’s cough or sneeze into our elbow or tissues which we must dispose quickly.

Let’s adhere to social distancing and reduce unnecessary travel. The ball really is in our court.


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