The landing craft LC Freedom has been detained by the Interim Maritime Regulator, Charlie Maniel, for overloading.
This follows an incident last Sunday when the vessel encountered engine problem after leaving Epi for Port Vila and had to be towed to the Capital by the tugboat Roimata.
The Interim Regulator and his legal officer, Lloyd Fikiasi, accompanied by other senior officers of the Office of the Maritime Regulator (OMR) explained that the LC Freedomm owned by Tongariki businessman, John Mark Reuben, encountered engine problem about 36 miles outside of Cook’s Reef near Emae.
They said the vessel then starting drifting at about 4.30pm with a total of 136 people on board, which was more than the vessel’s passenger loading capacity.
“About 5pm I received a call about the distressed vessel and I immediately called my inspectors.
“And then we contacted the Harbour Master, Captain John Nasak, for use of the tugboat Roimata, and the Director of the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) Abraham Nasak for use of a helicopter if required,” Interim Regular Maniel added.
“We also contacted the owner of the vessel John Mark Reuben who was in New Zealand to inform him of the incident and he agreed to foot the bill for towing the ship back to port in Vila,” he added.
“We also managed reach the captain of the LC Freedom who gave us a GPS position of the vessel and as soon as all logistics were ready, our team left with the crew of the Roimata at around 10 o’clock on Sunday night.”
At around 1 O’clock in the morning the crew on the Roimata detected the vessel on the radar and went alongside at 1.30am and boarded the stricken vessel.
“We checked the passengers and all were very happy to see us and after the tugboat crew had secured the vessel, towing started at 2am and we arrived in Port Vila alongside the new wharf at 8 O’clock on Monday morning.
“The captain accepted the vessel was overloaded. We recounted the people as they left the vessel and there were 136 altogether,” IR Maniel and OMR Legal Officer Fikiasi said.
They said the total cost of the operation was around Vt500,000.
They added that the owner of the vessel who also owns a smaller vessel, MV Brooklyn, returned to Port Vila on Wednesday and boarded the vessel on Thursday. And that inspection of the vessel took place on Thursday with the final inspection to be conducted on Monday.
The Interim Regular said LC Freedom, formerly LC Kotu when it first arrived in the country in the 1990s, is subject for slipping and it is in the list of vessels required to undergo slipping works.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Maritime Regular is appealing to all owners of vessels operating in the country to keep a good maintenance of their vessels at all times for the safety of passengers.
“They must have a maintenance plan and not to just be reactive every time because of poor maintenance regimes.”
The Interim Regulator and his legal officer revealed that the LC Freedom had to go to Epi last Sunday on its route to Port Vila for additional oil because they did not fill the engine with enough engine oil and the engine’s gearbox shut down as a result and the vessel drifted until towed to safety.