CAPTION: The Liahona docked at the Narain Jetty in Suva.

Ulaiasi Baivatu is the kind of man that would make the heart of a banker race – with anticipation. The 41 year-old architect who has a thriving architectural design business in Suva, is also a grocery wholesaler. If that isn’t enough to keep him busy, he has now embarked on a new venture – inter-island shipping.

“My elder brother still lives in the village and he would tell me stories of the hardships people on the island continue to face with transportation,” Ulaiasi said.

Ulaiasi hails from Solotavui, Nakasaleka in Kadavu but was brought up in the neighbouring Babaceva village so he is all too familiar with the problems associated with the transportation of goods and passengers in the maritime region.

“My brother owns a shop in our small estate outside of Kadavu village.  A few times his fibre glass boat almost capsized from the weight of the cargo. One of the reasons I wanted to get this boat to assist in the daily hardships that islanders face,” he said of his purchase of a 197 tonne cargo and passenger vessel that he has christened Liahona.

Ulaiasi Baivatu at the wheel of the Liahona.

Ulaiasi Baivatu at the wheel of the Liahona.

Liahona is a brass ball that operated as a compass with two spindles providing guidance as described in the Book of Mormon

“The story about the Liahona is that the compass will only work on faith and in righteousness and this has inspired me in naming the vessel as I’m a Mormon myself,” Ulaiasi said.

Purchased four year ago, the 36.6 metre vessel had to undergo major refurbishment to meet the Fiji Island Maritime and Safety Authority (FIMSA) standards to be declared seaworthy.

“It has been a really long wait for me, my family and my relatives back in the village who have been longing to see the boat sail at last,” he said.

Purchased in 2008, Ulaiasi invested $100,000 of his own savings to refurbish the boat before approaching the Fiji Development Bank  in 2010 for a loan to complete  his project. He was financed under FDB’s commercial loan for water transportation.

“I had approached a few commercial banks but they turned me down.   I approached FDB and I’m thankful to them for providing financing when no other banks would,” he said

By getting the Liahona ready for service, Ulaiasi feels that he has done right by his fellow villagers by providing them a viable solution to their transport and shipping problems.

“This project has really tested me as a person and I thank God for giving me the strength to overcome all the barriers as I had been doing this on my own. From the maintenance work to ensuring the boat abided by all maritime and safety standards. My four years of perseverance has finally paid off,” Ulaiasi said as the Liahona sets sail on its maiden voyage this week to Dravuni, Buliya, Ono, Kavala Bay and Kadavu village.

The Liahona can carry up to 100 passengers in air conditioned comfort as well as 103 tonnes of cargo. For now she is expected to service these villages once a week, complimenting the services of MV Ului Nabukelevu which services the villages in the Tikina of Nabukelevu.

“There is a lot of room for cargo so that I can maximise the amount of cargo transported to and from the islands,” Ulaiasi said as he sets his eyes on another poorly serviced maritime region – the northern Lau group which is currently serviced by MV Sandy for the islands of Vanuabalavu, Lakeba, Tuvuca, Cikobia and Yacata.

Ulaiasi is a director of Clearview Architects, an architectural firm in Suva responsible for designing the Bose Levu Vakaturaga complex in Suva and the Garden City complex in Raiwai amongst others. He also owns and operates Southern Island Traders in Samabula.



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