Council maintains need for regulations

22/06/2018 15:04

The Consumer Council maintains there is a need to prioritise legislation that clearly spells out the rights and responsibilities of inter-island vessels to their passengers and vice versa.

The development of this legislation was included as part of the budget submission made by the Council to address issues frequently faced by passengers during inter-island travel.

In view of the latest responses from inter-island shipping companies to public complaints, the Council believes the legislation will be most effective moving forward.

The Council notes that inter-island shipping has improved a lot in terms of newly refurbished and larger ships serving the outer islands including Rotuma.

However, the Council continues to receive complaints against shipping companies. The responses to these complaints in today’s Fiji Times (Friday, June 22) reveal an arrogance and disregard for genuine passenger concerns.

Passengers who make legitimate complaints, like waiting on board for 6 hours prior to a vessel’s departure are deemed to be “fussy”. And those who lose their luggage have no way to get compensation because of a disclaimer on a bill of landing. In this day and age should we allow business to run on disclaimers?

These shipping companies are using an absence of regulations to absolve themselves of responsibility to the passengers and their belongings.

Where are the ethics of these businesses? Instead of owning up to legitimate short comings such as extremely delayed departure times or loss of luggage on their part, they are blaming passengers and calling them “fussy”.

Furthermore, there is a massive cost to passengers facing these issues.

Some passengers travel long distances to get to the port where a vessel is departing. They will travel these long distances only to be informed at the port that the trip has been cancelled.

They then must either pay for travel back home or fork out extra money to find accommodation. This is unacceptable.

Inter-island shipping services should not be treated any differently from bus or aircraft transport services. If services are late or cancelled, passengers must be informed and compensated.

If goods or property are lost, they must also be either refunded or replaced.

Currently there is an implied warranty under the Sales of Goods Act and consumers need to get value for their money and appropriate services by the service providers.

However legislation to protect consumer interests should provide the rights and responsibilities that Inter-Island shipping companies have to their passengers and the council hopes this is considered in the 2018-2019 National Budget.