Boats at Risk

15/04/2016 09:30

As an island nation, fishing is a major source of income for many people in Fiji. Sea transportation is also one of the major means of travelling from one island to another. Many villagers use punts or canoes daily just to cross rivers and streams to reach the mainland. The lives of these people cannot be risked by some unscrupulous traders wanting to make quick and easy money.

The Council has received several complaints from boat builders on the poor quality of locally manufactured marine plywood sold in the hardware stores. Boat builders who have been in this trade for years have recently noticed that the quality of the local marine plywood has deteriorated. Boat builders have noticed that the newly purchased marine plywood contain tiny holes, or defects arose within a few months of building boats or the marine plywood deteriorates within only a month’s time after the boat is out at sea.

Sale of such poor quality marine plywood is a breach of consumer’s right to safety. The lives of the fisherman and seafarers are also at risk when going out to sea in boats which are not seaworthy. Using sub-standard and inferior quality marine plywood also causes financial loss to the poor consumers who have to spend extra for repairs.

Case study

Mr. Tevita, who is disabled, earns his living through building boats. In 2010, he built a boat using marine plywood from three different hardware shops.

Whilst building the boat, Mr. Tevita noticed that the marine plywood had started to deteriorate. He notified the hardware shop of this, however, the hardware shops were of no assistance to Mr. Tevita.

Mr. Tevita was greatly worried as he understood the safety risks associated with seafaring when a boat is built using poor quality marine plywood. He decided to take the matter up with the Council as he had incurred loss of income and money invested in purchasing boat building material.

The Council requested the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests to test the marine plywood so that the cause of defects in the plywood could be determined. A report was provided by the Ministry which stated that the plywood purchased was not suitable for marine application. This is due to the fact that the plywood which is manufactured locally uses non-durable hardwood veneer for face, back and core. Veneer face and back was identified as Dakua Makadre while the inner core was of mixtures of hardwoods of non durable species. The lab analysis confirms veneer sheets were untreated to the required H6 retention level and that the plywood was inferior for marine situation, completely or partly immersed in sea water. It could have been only used and sold for marine use if treated with Tanalith NCA to H6 retention level.  H6 treatment protects timber against marine borer attack and decay. 

Unfortunately despite having a report from the Ministry of Fisheries and Forests which clearly stated that the marine plywood was not fit for marine purpose, the hardware shop failed to provide any redress to Mr. Tevita. What is more unfortunate is that there is no enforcement agency and/or regulatory organization that could effectively assist Mr. Tevita with redress and compensation. His complaint has been passed back and forth from one institution to another over the past 3 years. This matter could not be filed at the Small Claims Tribunal as Mr. Tevita’s claim is more than $5000 and the current pecuniary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Tribunal is $5,000.

It is rather shocking to learn that manufacturers in Fiji are complying with the Australian standard AS2272 to export marine plywood to Australia while neglecting the local consumers by dumping low quality marine plywood because Fiji does not have standards on such products. As an interim measure, AS2272 requirements must be imposed on local manufacturers for safety reasons.

The Council urges manufacturers and retailers to understand the consequences of producing and selling low grade marine plywood.