Skipper recalls that fateful journey
BY BEN BILUA
We watched the other boat heading towards Shortland Island while we tried to fix one of the two 40hp engine and follow them behind. It was the last time we saw them.
These are the words of Tony Nonga who was one of the passengers of two boats which set out of Gizo, one of which is missing.
Fourteen people were onboard the missing boat, most of whom are children.
“The sea was fine when we departed Gizo. Both boats, a 75hp and a double 40hp travelled side by side towards Vella then we went ashore on an Island to better prepare the boats before crossing the sea to Shortland.
“We sort things out and we left the island. It was fine, the sea was fine,” Nonga said.
He said midway to the journey both 40hp engine stopped working due to mechanical issues and both boat came together to fix the issue.
Nonga said the weather changed and they decided for the 75hp boats to go ahead with the children and women while strong men and few women fixed one of the 40hp engine and follow later.
“Let’s go back to when we left Vella. When we left Vella, children and women were the ones boarded the double 40hp boat and when both engines stopped working mid ocean we transfer the children and women to the 75hp boat.
“Another important thing to mention is that, we have only one mechanic who can fix the issue. The mechanic is the skipper of the 75hp, so what happened was, we transfer the kids and women to the 75hp boat, then the skipper of 75hp came to our boat and the skippers of double 40hp transferred to the 75hp boat.
“So, the skippers of double 40 now handle the 75hp boat and the skipper of the 75hp is staying with the double 40hp boat to fix the engines.
“We encourage each other and the 75hp boat went ahead heading towards Shortland.
“At the time the weather was getting worsen,” he said.
Nonga recalled that Shortland Island was sighted and the 75hp with children and women were heading straight towards the island.
He said it was at that moment that a dark cloud, heavy rain with strong wind hit them.
“We saw the other boat disappearing into the dark cloud and that was the last time we saw them,” Nonga said.
He said that was when the two boats separated.
“After the other boat left the mechanic tried to fix one of the 40hp engine and this time the bad weather hit us badly.
“Our boat almost sunk three times but luckily we jump overboard each time the boat filled with water.
“We pumped out water using buckets and get onboard each time and that’s how we survived the strong wind and raging waves,” Nonga said.
“The wind was too strong, the sea current was fierce and the waves hit us like a punching bag,” he added.
Nonga said there was total darkness, visibility was poor and after much effort, the mechanic successfully fixed one of the engines.
“We see nothing and at first we start the engine then heading to the direction we thought heading towards Taro.
“After few attempts trying to figure out where are heading to, we decided to stopped the engine and just float.
“It was around 5pm or 6pm on January 1,2022,” he said.
Nonga said he and another passenger stayed up all night while everyone who was then tired sleep inside the boat.
He said around 3pm on the other day, they saw lights and alerted everyone onboard.
“We thought we were close to Vella Island so we travelled along the coast hoping to cross to Gizo because visibility was poor.
“After travelling for hours, we realised that it was not Vella Island. We went ashore and we realised that we were at Moli, Choiseul Province.
“We stayed there until morning and we contacted Shortland Police to check for the boat that went ahead of us the day before. It was then that we realised that the boat was not able to make it to Shortland Islands.
“We contacted Taro Police and they called us to go to Taro, so we went to Taro to help with the search,” Nonga said.
He described the trip as unfortunate and unlucky for his relatives who went missing.
“I’m lucky to be alive and I thank God for giving me another chance to live,” Nonga said.
“I pray and hope for some good news in the coming days,” he added.
According to Nonga, three men, three women and eight children were on the boat that went missing, while eight men including two kids and six women were on the other boat that survived.
Island Sun understands that search for the missing is ongoing.