Ill-fated MV Francis-Gerena saga - Solomon Star News

Ill-fated MV Francis-Gerena saga

24 December 2013

Over the last few days the public, news media and the social network had produced, published and broadcasted so much fabricated information and news about the episode surrounding the recently ill-fated MV Francis-Gerena.

While we do appreciate public and press freedom, we must also be mindful of the wilful damage such unfounded fabricated information could cause in the community, especially to those concerned, including the service provider, passengers and their families.

We wish to put a few things straight in response to the front page news headline that appeared in Solomon Star No. 5365 of Thursday 9 December 2013.

First, there was no detention order issued to the captain of the vessel hence he did not defy any order issued by Marine authorities.

Secondly, another piece of fabricated information that needs to be put straight against this news item is that the ship had not been chartered. If it was chartered, who was name of the person who chartered the vessel? In fact, it was a normal fortnightly free trip schedule offered to the people of Lau/Baelelea Constituency by Management of HP Shipping.

During these fortnightly free trips, travelling passengers were allowed free-on-board, in other words the normal sea fare and freight is not charged to all passengers.

This is a first-of-its-kind special gesture given by any shipping service to travelling passengers of North Malaita region, especially Lau/Baelelea Constituency. HP Shipping Service is happy to provide such a fortnightly free service to the unfortunate transport-problematic areas of North Malaita region.

In fact the management of the shipping service had made several appeals to all these excited but desperate North Malaitan passengers travelling homeward-bound on this vessel on the night of Tuesday when the ship was initially scheduled to sail.

However, because of the fact that many of these passengers were reluctant to make a move to disembark the vessel, to allow the vessel to carry the maximum capacity allowed, the captain in consultation with management agreed to delay the scheduled sailing time until the next morning, hoping most passengers would cooperate.

It was also announced that evening that due to the high number of passengers wanting to travel back to their villages during this festive seasons, the vessel would do another extra-free trip to North Malaita on Friday 20 December 2013.

On the night of Tuesday, two police officers called in at the wharf where the vessel was berthing and asked to see the captain.

However, they were told that the captain had still not yet arrived. The officers then told the crews that they would return to see the captain, however, they never returned back to see the captain that night.

Presumably what Acting Director Captain Tim Harrison of Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration (SIMSA) had told the media that the ship had been detained could be true (according to SIMSA), however, the Captain was not informed or made aware any such detention order.

So the management of HP Shipping Service therefore categorically denied the claim that the Captain of MV Francis-Gerena had disobeyed or defied the Order is not at all true.

In fact there was no such Order issued by SIMSA to detain the said vessel. Had the captain being properly informed, he would have adhered to this order.

If I may kindly ask Acting Director Tim Harrison this question, "did he actually issue a detention order for the vessel to be detained overnight and had actually ordered her to berth at Patrol Boat Base at Aola Bay? Or was it just a word sent through the two police officers on beat to ask the captain of MV Francis-Gerena if he could sail to Aola Bay for checking of tickets and to ensure the maximum number of passengers required to travel is complied with before sailing out?

In the alternative, if it was truly a detention order, the marine officers would have pinned the order on the mast of the vessel, as practiced in any jurisdiction as a matter of global maritime policy.

I asked this question because we were at the wharf last Friday 20/12/13, to see off some our relatives boarding MV Day Star to travel to Auki. It was quite interesting to note that MV Day Star and MV Maetalau both berthed at Point Cruz wharf and were both overloaded with passengers.

Despite several attempts by the officers of both vessels making announcements through the vessels' loudspeakers, as usual, most of the passengers (still yet to pay their tickets on board) were reluctant to disembark both vessels.

There was no order from Marine Authorities to order both vessels to sail to Aola Bay for inspection. In fact, it was the captains of both vessels themselves who decided to sail to Patrol Base Aola Bay for inspection before sailing out.

The only funny thing that happened was that since it was taking  the Patrol base officers (not marine officers) too long to check passengers of MV Day Star, the captain of MV Maetalau, although overloaded decided to just sail out to Auki. Is it not a funny situation my good Acting Director Captain Tim Harrison of SIMSA? This should be a good case study for you and your officers to ponder during this busy schedule travelling time.

If there were detention orders also served on MV Day Star and MV Maetalau, could we say that they also defy orders and deserved to be investigated and charged as well, including their respective managements?

Anyhow, MV Francis-Gerena took off Wednesday morning after the Captain was fully satisfied that most of the passengers had already disembarked the vessel and that the marine water mark on the side of the vessel was still visible (meaning sea level was well below the marine water mark).

The captain could be considering suing both the media and the Acting director of SIMSA for misleading the public by labelling him as "Captain paid the ultimate price for his disobedience".

As a long time sea captain he was never disobedient to any marine rules as far as he is concern.

Therefore the cause of the sinking of the vessel is not to do with the "overloading". Rather, it was something to with the bilge pumps not functioning.

The management had just recently purchased two new sets of Yamaha Bilge Pumps from Y. Sato & Company for use in the vessel. These two Bilge Pumps have been working quite alright since the time of purchase up to the time of the tragedy.

 Since their purchase, MV Francis-Gerena had already made several trips without experiencing any problems with these two newly purchased Bilge Pumps.

According to the ship's engineer after they left the island of Gela and started heading towards their intended course, the two bilge pumps stopped functioning simultaneously for some very interesting unknown reasons.

This was the time they started to experience difficulty in trying to discharge water from the engine room into the sea. The flow of seawater entering the vessel through the shaft-lining is much faster than the amount of seawater being manually discharged by the engineers with the assistants of crew members.

On behalf of the management of HP Shipping, we share our deepest sadness with the victims of this unexpected tragedy.

The HP Shipping management is considering providing assistance and support to help passengers recover their goods and belongings lost during the tragedy. 

We would like to assure all our good people of North Malaita region, especially people in the Lau Baelela constituency that HP Shipping is currently making a quick alternative shipping arrangement to continue and maintain our shipping service previously rendered to our good people.

 Never Give Up - Together We Shall Prosper into the Future!

By Jack Kii
On behalf of HP Shipping