Talo Fifita: Mineva Reef hero dies

A Tongan shipwreck survivor, Talo Fifita died after 51 years when a ship he was one of the crew members hit Minerva Reef on July 7, 1962.

Fifita was 25 years old at the time and his father Tevita Fifita was the captain of the ship,  known as the Tuaikaepau or Slow-But-Sure.

All ten passengers and seven crew members on board survived the shipwreck but only twelve returned to Tonga following their rescue 102 days later.

In an interview with the Kaniva Tonga Online in 2011 Fifita emotionally recalled how four of them died in the reef as a result of homesick and deep anxiety.

A pack of match they unexpectedly found in a Japanese ship dumped in the reef enabled them to start a fire that gave them warmth and distilling water before they were rescued on October 18, 1962.

They survived on a diet of octopuses, fishes, seabirds and shellfish.

The rescue attributed to the bravery of Talo’s father, Captain Fifita after he managed to sail with two others to Fiji  in search of help on a home-made raft they built in the reef.

Two others who went with Captain Fifita were his son Sateki Fifita and a crew member Tevita Uaisele.

Sateki died just before the raft reached Nacomoto Village on the shores of the Kadavu Island, in a trip the trio had no food and water for 8 days

Captain Fifita and Uaisele went ashore on a Sunday and were reported to the Fijian authorities the following day.

The government of Tonga marked the rescue with a celebration that saw thousands gathered in the Capital Nuku’alofa on October 22, 1962 to welcome the survivors.

Primary school children  lined up when the survivors arrived by aircraft from Fiji. The survivors went straight to the palace and met Queen Salote Tupou III before they were taken to hospital.

Fifita is survived by his wife Latu Lesieli Fifita and their 12 children. He died on August 27 and was buried on August 31 in the Kalevalio’s Cemetery in the village of Ma’ofanga, Tongatapu.

He was born on April 8, 1937.

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