Gov’t ordered to pay VT44mil for negligence

THE Vanuatu Supreme Court has ordered the Government to pay more than Vt44 million (US$393,000) for Ports and Harbour’s negligence to take care of a foreign vessel that sank in their custody.

MV Kaona, a Solomon Islands registered vessel has been partially submerged near the Iririki Island Resort since March 10, 2013.

It was a timber cargo and passenger vessel, built in 1991 at Makira, Solomon Islands by Joseph Kekefaga. The vessel sailed from Honiara on January 14, 2011 under the command of Captain Billy Mamaloni.

It came into Vanuatu as a foreign vessel, pursuant to a Lease Agreement signed on January 13, 2011 between the purported owner and Captain Jenneck Patunvanu of Marine Safety Vanuatu as lessee.

MV Kaona arrived in Port Vila at about midnight on January 20 the same year. It was seized by RVS Tukoro on its first trip and escorted back to Port Vila.

The Kaona in Port Vila harbour after it was arrested by RVS Tukoro.
The Kaona in Port Vila harbour after it was arrested by RVS Tukoro.

The owner’s legal counsel filed civil proceeding against the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu when the State refused to let the ship back to them to sail it back to Solomon Islands.

Justice Oliver Saksak said he is satisfied that the Vanuatu Government, through the Department of Ports and Harbour had a duty of care owed to the claimants to care and keep their vessel safe from damage and loss, and they failed to observe that duty.

He said that they were and are negligent.

He said evidence adequately established there was a duty of care by the Ports and Harbour. It further established there was a serious neglect of duty on their part when no responses were made to Laumae’s letters and telephone calls, and no actions done by the former principal licensing officer of the Ports and Harbour and current Director Henry Worek after he had received a payment of Vt32, 000 (US$286) as survey fees to conduct a survey on the ship.

Worek also failed to provide a receipt of the service that was paid for.

“I now consider and discuss the issue of whether the Kaona was detained unlawfully,’’ said Justice Saksak.

“This issue was raised by Laumae. The evidence of Laumae, Mahana and Worek are the most relevant in considering this issue.”

Justice Saksak said that the arrest of the Kaona was not an issue but its detention by the Ports and Harbour after April 27, 2011 when the then Public Prosecutor wrote a letter to the Directors of Ports and Harbour and of Customs Departments informing them of the decision not to press for the seizure of the vessels.

He said that PP directed them to release the vessels back to their owners, the QDCL and to facilitate the boarding of their Captain and crew to sail the vessel home to the Solomon Islands.

He also stated that the Minister of Infrastructure and Public Utilities at the time wrote a letter to have the ship released.

Instead Worek ignored the advice and, based on an earlier advice from the State, he kept the ship.