As Fiji Roads Authority work gets under way on the storm-damaged jetty at Yasawa i Ra, the villagers are counting the days until it reopens later this year.
It has been six years since cruise ships – a vital source of revenue for the island, have been able to land at Yasawa I Ra. Cyclones Daman and Gene destroyed the original jetty, then months after a replacement was built in 2012, Cyclone Evan badly damaged it.
“The villagers have no source of income without it,” says their spokesman, Ratu Asaeli Vatanitawake.
“No jetty means the big cruise ships can’t stop here, because it is not safe for tourists. We lose out on thousands of dollars of landing fees for each ship that could have come in – it was four to five ships a year, until 2006.”
“Every person who stops is a source of money for an individual villager and their families.”
Villagers can make between $100 – $400 per ship from sale of handicrafts, clothing, food, drinks, boat hire and sightseeing.”
As well as providing a vital source of income, the cruise ships give back to the villages in a number of ways.
“Their medical teams help with free medical services, check-ups and medication, as well as bringing medical supplies for our health centre. They donate school books for the kindergarten, and support the local rugby team with jerseys, balls and so on.” Some cruise ships have still visited over the two years that the jetty has been out of action, using the pontoon that preceded the 2012 jetty. They can only bring a small number of people ashore at a time on the smaller boats, though, and are very weather dependent.
Once the jetty is repaired, the village hopes to attract 10 – 12 cruise ships a year.
“Having a regular stream of income means the village can complete a housing project that is underway, repair a church that was also damaged in Cyclone Evan and undertake some much needed work on the local school,” says Ratu Asaeli Vatanitawake.
The new jetty will be more robust and more reliable than any that the village has had before. Part of the existing jetty is being demolished and suitable material is being salvaged from it, the existing jetty will be strengthened and a new extension will provide two landing points – one for larger vessels and one for smaller fishing and recreational vessels.
“The original design and construction was not strong enough to stand up to the very extreme weather,” says Don Clifford, of the Fiji Roads Authority’s engineering consultants, MWH Global. “The jetty is now being strengthened and will be better suited to this exposed section of coastline.”
Ian Hunter, Capital Works Manager of the Fiji Roads Authority says the jetty is a good example of making Fiji’s transport infrastructure budget go further, while delivering better, safer and more reliable roads, jetties and bridges.
“It is finding the right balance. Not enough was invested in the design and construction of the original jetty when it was built, and that is one of the reasons it failed in the very first storm after construction. By doing the repairs that are underway and upgrading at the same time, we can save the jetty and bring it up to a much better standard for half, or even less, of what it would cost to start from scratch. We can get it up and running much more quickly, too, and the money that would have been spent rebuilding completely, can go to other equally urgent access projects.
Mr Hunter says the FRA is aware of the concerns the location of the jetty.
“The work being done at the moment is intended to provide a useable jetty while other priority jetty works are completed and investigations into a new site are done. Deciding on a new site will require investigations into wave and current effects, water depths and the ground conditions, as well as consultation with the people of the island and other likely jetty users.”