Once again it seems a boating tragedy has occurred at sea in Solomon Islands coastal waters.
According to a report carried by the Solomon Star newspaper, a boat carrying nine people that went missing on January 15 in the waters between Western and Choiseul provinces has been found, but without the passengers.
Police say the boat was located in the Ritamala area in Kia, Santa Isabel Province, but there were no people on board.
“The boat was found floating upside down with the 40 horsepower (HP) Out board Motor (OBM),” Provincial Police Commander (PPC) Choiseul Province, Superintendent Vincent Eria said.
The missing nine include five males, two females and two children.
They left Gizo after 10am on January 15 and head off to Posarai village, south Choiseul. It’s a journey that normally takes between 3 to four hours.
But after they failed to arrive at their destination, relatives alerted police and other authorities on the same day.
A sea-wide search conducted since then failed to locate the group until police were alerted to the discovery of the floating boat on Monday.
In light of the tragedy, the police have again strongly reminded boat owners, skippers and the general public of the importance of sea safety.
“Before you travel, please plan your trip properly.
• Plan your trip and let at least a member of your family know where you are going and what time you expect to arrive;
• Check the weather on SIBC or call the Met Service on 23658 or toll free 933;
• If you start your trip and the weather becomes bad, seek shelter until the sea is calm;
• Make sure your boat is seaworthy and your OBM is serviced and maintained
• Know your skipper. Make sure they are experienced in driving boats;
• Do not overload your boat
• Wear life jackets. Take food and water, paddles, first aid kit, anchor and rope, mirror to signal others, tools, bucket, torch, phone, flares and EPIRB;
• Take extra fuel;
• If your skipper is drunk, do not go with them or let them control the boat; and
• If you require help, at sea call the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) on phone 21609 or 27685 or the toll free phone 977; or call the RSIPF National Communication Centre on phone 23666 or the toll free phone 999.”
In June 2017 following another boat tragedy in which five lives were lost and eleven reported missing, the then Prime Minister called for a review of sea safety with a view to improving the capacity of emergency services to immediately mobilise assets whenever required.
At the same time, the Prime Minister said the Ministry of Infrastructure Development would be tasked to provide a standard specification of manufacturing of banana boats using either aluminium or fibreglass and the requirement for the installation of safety features on the boats. It was understood a review would also look at introducing strict compliance with minimum safety measures and mandatory use of life rafts and mandatory use of locators.
I am not aware to what extend the Ministry of Infrastructure Development implemented the Prime Minister’s directive for compliance with minimum safety measures, but clearly action is still called for to try and prevent tragic incidents at sea.
Without a helicopter to aid emergency rescue services, I understand how difficult it is to immediately respond to accidents at sea, but all the more reason why banana boats owners should have stricter safety features, including the provision of life vests and indicator beacons installed and carry flares on their boats.