Captain braveheart

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Captain Joeli Vuki with the medal he was awarded on World Maritime Day in Suva last week. Picture: SHANELLE PRASAD

Captain Joeli Vuki may be 70 years old but his love for the sea is as fresh as yesterday. He grew up on the island of Vatoa in Lau.

Surrounded by the ocean, his childhood dream was to become a seafarer, a dream that lured him to Suva.

After completing his primary education on the island, he headed over to Suva for further studies, returning only once to the island.

He did Year 10 in Suva and went back to Vatoa, where he worked as a volunteer teacher.

“In order to teach, I went to Nasinu Training College to get trained as a teacher, but on one of the school breaks, I went with a family I knew from the islands.

“They took me on a vessel to go to another neighbouring island. The weather was very bad that we couldn’t get back on the vessel and go home on time.”

He said another cargo vessel owned by a man named John Young picked him up and dropped him off in Suva.

“I had asked him if I could travel to Suva in his cargo vessel. As soon as I arrived, I went to the marine department and lodged an application in 1974.

“In 1976 I got my captain’s ticket and from then on I travelled overseas while I was with the government for 12 years.

“I joined gas tankers, cargo ships and later resigned in the 1980s.”

It was during that time that the government had received a ship donated by the government of Nauru.

“It was under the port’s authority and we took it up to Singapore, Thailand, India, Burma, Madras and other places. Upon his return, he was approached by Ports Authority of Fiji to sail on one of their vessels from Singapore to Fiji.

“They wanted me to captain their vessel, a landing barge which took 49 days to travel to Fiji with and the crew were all Filipino’s.

“In 1992, South Sea Towage Ltd approached me and I’ve been with them for 30 years.”

He said working in the office as the deputy operations manager was something he had to get accustomed to because he was used to being at sea most of his life.

Capt Vuki received a bravery medal on World Martitime Day last Thursday. This was for his efforts to rescue the crew of a vessel that caught fire at sea.

“We received information that there was one fishing vessel with Asians on board between Gau and Ovalau.

“It had caught a small fire during the day and the weather was bad. The seas were rough, and it took six hours to reach the vessel.” For two hours, the crew fought the fire with only the bridge of the ship still secured.

“Fortunately, one of the partially burned sister fishing vessels was around there. It picked up the distraught crew while we took the partially damaged vessel back to Suva for repairs.”

Captain Vuki said they were later surprised when police discovered a dead body in the partially burned vessel. “All throughout our trip we didn’t see the man, and he probably was unable to get away from the fire on time

Life at sea in the open waters is filled with beauty, uncertainties and mysteries. These are the very reason why he loves his job and wouldn’t trade it for the world.