Crew of MV ‘Otuanga‘ofa ask authorities to ‘have some kind of a kind heart’ and reverse charges for cargo carried from New Zealand

The crew of the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa, which spent six months in dry dock in Auckland, claim their employers have kept part of their daily allowance to pay for freight, after they were told it would be free.

Captain Vivili Fifita (L)< Chair of the Shared Board Transport Sector Dr SIone Ngongo Kioa. Photo/Patimiosi Ngungutau

The crew said they ran short of food in Auckland and had to gather water from the roof of the ship in an area infested with birds.

They also said it had come as a shock to discover they had no health insurance.

In a letter to the Shared Board Transport Sector’s Chairman Dr Sione Ngongo Kioa, crew members said they were disappointed after the government’s Friendly Islands Shipping Agency (FISA) used part of their travelling allowance to pay for cargo given to them for free while they were in New Zealand. 

A copy of the letter, which was seen by Kaniva News, criticises the government for failing to look after the crew and making sure they were protected and safe.

“I am writing on behalf of the crew members and to express our disappointment against how the Friendly Island Fishing Agency handled the struggles we encountered while in New Zealand”, the letter of complaint by a member of the crew read in Tongan. 

“We left Tonga for New Zealand on September 16. We were told we would be only staying there for 27 days. However, we continued to stay there longer than expected and there was a shortage of food, water and we had to share the only small amount of food and water we had at the time.”

A crew member became ill soon after the inter-island ferry arrived in Auckland and while  processing his medical needs it was discovered that the crew did not have any medical insurance.

The shipping agency later said it paid for the crew’s health checks and medical appointment in New Zealand.

Kaniva News has seen a receipt dated April 5, 2023, for a total of TP$12,880. We understand this was for the freight charged by FISA for the complainant’s cargoes. 

It is understood part of the travelling allowance payments were paid to crew members while they were in New Zealand. There have been complaints that the allowances were  not paid on time. 

FISA board member Tu’imoana Takataka visited New Zealand and it is understood he was asked by Captain Vivili Fifita about the crew members’ cargoes they were expecting to take with them to Tonga when the ferry returned.

The letter claimed Takataka confirmed to Fifita that the crew members’ cargoes would be carried free of charge.

“Our heart were full of happiness and so we accepted all the goods and donations we received from our relatives and friends in New Zealand,” the letter to the Transport Sector’s chairman said.

“Unfortunately, when we arrived in Tonga on April 6 after leaving Tonga for about seven months we were given a different version of the story. The freight charges were devastating. Therefore I am appealing to you to remove the freight charges as our family could not afford them. The duty charges are a must and we have to pay that. But the decision for freight charges is a matter for the board of directors to decide.”

Another letter sent to the board of directors said: “I understand that FISA’s board of directors has passed a decision for Captain Vivili Fifita to charge freight fees to all cargo from New Zealand belonging to the MV ‘Otuanga’ofa crew members.  The freight cannot be paid by instalment. If the crew members would not pay FISA would use their travelling allowance to pay for their cargoes.

“Many of us crew members had to borrow money after the ferry arrived in Tonga to pay for our cargo out as it was Saturday and we were told if our cargo was not cleared immediately there would be wharfage charges.

“Our travelling allowance for crew officers were $100 per day while crew members were $80 daily and the captain was $500 a day. Our lunch money was $10 a day. We struggled while being in New Zealand. There was shortage of food and I helped by providing food, laundry and medical assistance such as health checks costs. 

“We collected rainwaters from the vessel’s rooftop where birds used to live and the location was close to the sewerage outlet. The freight charges for our cargoes as crew members is lacking in common sense. Customs has agreed for us to pay half of the duty charges and will settle them later through an instalment payment arrangement. Meanwhile, FISA, the company which we cherished and where we get paid to buy bread for our family, is making us disappointed.

“I would like to double check with you whether that was the decision which has been just passed on to Captain Vivili Fifita to make us unhappy as I think we are not being treated equally in terms of what types of cargoes we brought from New Zealand. This is only part of the many issues that I have yet to raise.

“I wish that you board members have some kind of a kind heart and return our travelling allowance pay together with giving us some other form of assistance available to help us ease the stress and pain.”

Kaniva News has seen a letter which appears to be from the Transport’s chair of board of directors Dr Sione Ngongo Kioa, saying the crew had to listen to what Captain Fifita told them about the freight charges.

Kaniva News has contacted Dr Kioa and Captain Fifita for a response to the crew’s complaints.

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.


Latest news

Related news