The Fiji Times » The mystery of the Kadavu dinghies
On March 1, 1984, the Fiji Times reported that police and navy officers arrested 15 crew members of a fishing vessel who allegedly illegally landed at Kadavu and dived for clams.
The report adds that the crew of the Taiwanese fishing vessel Ching Feng have been arrested by Suva police in what has been described as a Kadavu dinghy mystery case.
The 15, including the ship’s captain, Ko Hawuon, were due in court to face charges of illegally landing on Kadavu and diving for clams.
A company of soldiers led by Naval Squadron Commander Stan Brown rushed to Kadavu on HMFS Kula after two canoes were found hiding in bushes between the villages of Lomati and Nabukelevu-i-Ra.
The report added that the two dinghies, each capable of carrying 20 men, were fitted with Yamaha automatic shipboard engines, but had their propellers removed.
Commander Brown told the Fiji Times that the Taiwanese vessel was searched after a local shipowner reported seeing the vessel with two dinghies in tow near Kadavu several weeks earlier.
The captain and crew denied going to Kadavu.
A search by naval officers found diving equipment and seashells in the ship.
The diving equipment was confiscated and handed over to the police.
Commander Brown said the two dinghies were hidden in Kadavu because the crew did not want to create suspicion when they came to Suva towing large dinghies used for diving.
“The canoes were most likely used to dive for clams in the reef surrounding the island, which is illegal,” Commander Brown said.
He said another theory was that the crew may have smuggled rare parrots and iguanas from Kadavu. These fetched high prices on the world market.
But to smuggle birds and iguanas, Taiwanese sailors would need local partners on Kadavu. Police and troops could not find any local contacts.
The Ching Feng’s arrival time in Suva coincided with the discovery of the inflatable boats.
“It is up to the police and the Crown to question them and charge them now,” Commander Brown said.
He said Kadavu troops would withdraw from the island with HMFS Kula patrolling the area.
Meanwhile, law enforcement sources told the Fiji Times that the crew members of the Ching Feng were likely to appear in Suva Magistrate’s Court. The report said the two dinghies which had been taken to Vunisea were likely to be taken to Suva by the government vessel Tabusoro.
Crew members of the Ching Feng told the Fiji Times that their passports had been confiscated by the police.
But they declined to say whether they had landed in Kadavu, or were diving for clams.
“We don’t know,” their spokesperson said. He said they were preparing to leave for the fishing grounds when police visited them on Tuesday and began questioning them.
“We just came here to stock up on fresh water and food.”
A squad of police guarded the trawler anchored at Millers Wharf in Walu Bay.
Some crew members were reportedly detained while others were released to return to their ship.