Despite the lifting of a ban on fishing in the Pangaimotu area, Vava’u fishers still feel uneasy, a local source says.
The government banned fishing and swimming in the sea off Pangaimotu and its surrounding islands after more than 50 septic tank trucks of human waste were illegally dumped in the mangroves near Pangaimotu.
The ban was lifted towards the end of last year and the government said it was safe for fishing and swimming.
An Australian business man in Vava’u, Ian Jones, was convicted by a Vava’u court and fined TP$1000 on June 20, 2018 for the dumping.
The conviction came after an inspection by the Health Authority found infectious disease from the waste in the sea near the dumping site.
The ban affected residents of Pangaimotu, Toula, ‘Utungake, ‘Utulei, Talihau and Neiafu.
Pangaimotu diver Tupetaiki Ma’ilei ‘Otukolo, 49, told Kaniva news the pollution has caused huge trouble for the welfare of the Vava’u residents.
He said although the ban had been lifted he and many other fishers and divers still had an uneasy feeling the pollution could contaminate seafood.
‘Otukolo said he had yet to return and dive at the site since the ban was lifted.
He said some local fishers have fished in the area since the lifting of the ban and he had not heard that they had found any problems in their seafood.
“This was our main source of life and the impact on us was huge,” ‘Otukolo said in Tongan.
“The Pangaimotu people were so angry with the palagi business man and there was a protest march staged last year here to show our disappointment.”
‘Otukolo said the fine inflicted by the court on Jones was not enough.
According to an Appeal court judgement on November 2018, the TP$1000 fine was the maximum fine under that regulation.
The prosecutor, Tonga’s Acting Attorney General ‘Aminiasi Kefu appealed and asked the Magistrate to impose that fine as well as three months imprisonment, both being the maximum sentence to be imposed for such offence, but the Magistrate only imposed the TP$1000 fine.
Kefu then appealed to the Supreme Court that the sentence was manifestly inadequate, and that a custodial sentence was warranted by the damage caused by the offence to the environment.
Jone’s lawyer William Clive Edwards Senior opposed the appeal saying that a report submitted by the prosecutor as a basis to find that the lower court was wrong in the sentence was not before the Magistrate at all.
He said it was unfair, and improper, that the Supreme Court, sitting as the appellate court, was given such a document to find that the lower court was in error in failing to have considered it.
Judge Laki Niu said he had “come to the conclusion that the Magistrate cannot be faulted in declining to impose an imprisonment sentence upon the respondent.”
Mr Niu ordered that the appeal be dismissed and that the parties bear their own costs.
Mr Niu said the Magistrate properly took into account Jones’ guilty plea and his payment of TP$4000 right away in November 2017.
“He also properly considered that the respondent had not re-offended since then. And, he properly considered that the same offence for which the respondent had paid, $TP2000, was the same offence he was being charged again under regulation 7 [and] was being twice punished for the same act.”
The main points
- Despite the lifting of a ban on fishing in the Pangaimotu area, Vava’u fishers still feel uneasy, local sources say.
- The government banned fishing and swimming in the sea off Pangaimotu and its surrounding islands after more than 50 septic tank trucks of human waste were illegally dumped in the mangroves near Pangaimotu.
- The ban was lifted towards the end of last year and the government said it was safe for fishing and swimming.
For more information
Employee of company which illegally dumped human waste in Vava’u speaks out