Important measures for safety at sea in the Solomon Islands

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DEAR EDITOR, living in the Solomon Islands and especially in the more isolated reaches of the country surrounded all around by the vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean it is naturally a normal day-to-day occurrence for local people to travel by small boats or motorized canoes to reach their destinations or go fishing.

While it is inevitable that the mode of transport will continue there is not enough attention being paid to safety and all those that venture out to sea should ensure they have the right knowledge of prevailing conditions, experience and possess safety equipment.

Here are some safety tips.

Before leaving shore:

check the weather forecast – if in doubt, don’t go out carry at least two types of emergency communications equipment that will work when wet (e.g., mobile phone in a plastic bag, or red hand-held flares). Bear in mind you can’t always rely on your mobile phone. It may be out of range, have limited battery power or become water-damaged prepare your boat – service the engine, check and change the fuel, check the battery and give it a good onceover check your gear – make sure your lifejackets are fit for purpose and you have enough for everyone on board make sure you know the “rules of the road” on the water, so you understand your area’s requirements.

At Sea know your boat’s limits – if it’s designed for inshore use, don’t take it far from land avoid alcohol – it slows down your reaction times and affects your ability to cope if something goes wrong

Use your lifejackets – put them on and secure them properly.

Last June there was a terrible boating tragedy in the Solomon Islands when 17 young people travelling from Malaita to Guadalcanal in a banana boat were drowned in rough seas.

After that incident the then Prime Minister, Mannasseh Sogavare, said the tragedy had elevated concerns to ensure sea travel was made safer.

At the time, he acknowledged that the Search and Rescue Division was short of funds and he promised to include additional money for the agency in the next budget.

He also directed the Ministry of Infrastructure to review the rules governing the manufacture of banana boats, the materials they were made out of and to ensure that certain safety features were made mandatory.

He said this would include requirements that the boats have life rafts, locator beacons, flares and clearly defined limits on passenger numbers and quantity of cargo.

Mr. Sogavare said boat manufacturers and owners and operators could be held criminally liable if they failed to meet the requirements.

I have no recent news on whether or not the “new rules” mentioned by the Hon. Sogavare were introduced.

This week another boating tragedy was thankfully averted when twenty Solomon Islands students were rescued after the boat they were on broke down and left them stranded at sea for two days.

Solomon Islands Police told local media the students and three crew were found on Tuesday after an alarm was raised by concerned parents.

The boat was owned by the Catholic Diocese in Gizo and had left Moli for Gizo on 28 January, when it suffered mechanical problems and started drifting.

To avoid further sea incidents all those venturing to sea should-

Study the weather and the condition of the sea before making a sea journey.

Know the boat; check its reliability and sea-worthiness.

Have proper safety equipment and carry the means of raising an alarm or firing a distress signal.

Use portable GPS range finding equipment if at all possible.

And remember –

“The sea is a dangerous place because it makes you believe in forever.” (Beth Revis)

 

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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