I do some reminiscing while I share my night watch with one of our youngest crew members from Christmas Island, his name is Ieie. His name means ‘sail’ as he is the son of one of our old-time crew members Tebitoa. A second generation of sailors is already tied to the ship, which is a good sign for the ship and its crew.
That the atmosphere on board is not always humane goes to show the following example. One of my Kiribati friends was contracted by a Chinese fishing vessel six months ago together with five other friends. Nobody heard from them since until one of the wives received a letter (written in secret) from her husband two weeks ago. It tells the gruesome tail of the working conditions on board of the long liner. Here is a passage from the letter:
“To my best friend and especially to Miss A. at M., say hello to all the people of the house.
I was very worried but I was trying to feel good to work for the money.
The job was very tough about the work, the life, the food and the orders.
Our work was very hard and we were punished.
I am now trying to feel good when my boss hurts me but whenever the boss hurts me I feel like wanting to fight back but I am getting afraid because there are plenty of them Chinese to fight me and they support each other.”
International organizations are already contacted to put an end to this horrible situation.
Now back to our operation. During our four day stay in Washington Island we found the circumstances challenging, to say at least. The wind, swell and current were setting the ship towards the reef so I spent many hours on the wheel to try to avoid this from happening. The Kwai stayed drifting just off the reef while four small tenders were running cargo in and out to the beach. Thanks to her maneuverability the Kwai is absolutely suited for this kind of situation as long as there is no technical malfunction of course. I deeply respect the drivers that race the boats through the pass over eight foot high waves. It is an exhausting job.
Besides delivering our cargo we loaded copra for two days destined for Christmas Island, so the islanders can expect to be paid for this natural product. Yesterday we organized Kwai Store on the beach and the sales broke all records. It happened that the islanders received their payment for an earlier load of copra just last week.
The last day of our stay started nasty. The outboard of the council boat that we brought from Fanning was vandalized. With a guard on shore someone managed to destroy wires and put back the hood on the engine so in the morning our driver Banu soon found out that there was something wrong with the machine. Evy was ready to give up but I managed to jury-rig the engine back to working order. Of course we will have to replace some parts whenever we get the chance. Our agent Johnny could not explain the incident and commented: “in all our time with the Kwai this has never happened before”. Let’s hope it will never happen again.