By Nanise Volau
The China Railway First Group in Fiji is disputing compensation claims by Namada villagers for devastation they say the company’s equipment has caused to their reef and fishing (qoliqoli) areas.
The villagers say steel pipes left beside the Sigatoka River mouth by China Railway First Group (CRFG) and washed away by a recent storm, caused extensive damage to coral and other marine life on the reef bordering Namada, on the Coral Coast.
The company has the contract to dredge the Sigatoka River.
Korolevu-i-wai Environment Committee advisor, Doctor Victor Bonio, said a large metal pipe - approximately 60cm in diameter and 150m in length with floats attached – had damage the reef.
Chairman of the Namada village committee, Sanaila Saukawa, said the reef is a traditional tabu area for qoliqoli owners in Namada and the damage caused will continue to impact negatively on fisheries resources.
“The site is occasionally opened for fishing when there is a special village function but the pipe has damaged the area and created rubble beds where nets are generally placed when traditional fish drives are done,” Mr Saukawa said.
China Railway (CRFG) had initially expressed its willingness to consider compensation for the Namada resource owners. Both parties agreed however that this should be conditional on an independent third party conducting damage assessment.
The company has, however, now withdrawn its compensation offer claiming environmental damage to the reef was a result of natural disaster.
In the latest development CFRG’s legal representative, Davina Chan, in a letter on 16 July, wrote: "This is to advise that following consideration of the events leading up to and including the alleged damage to the fishing ground in question it is CRFG's position that it will not sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
“It is CRFG's respectful opinion that the damage was caused by natural disasters beyond CRFG's control and despite implementing all reasonable and appropriate measures."
Earlier, the Ministry of Waterways was requested to conduct an assessment to determine the cost of damage caused by CRFG’s dredging equipment along Korolevu-i-wai and Koroinasau qoliqoli near Namada Village.
The request has since been revoked and a Notice for Improvement issued instead.
When contacted, Director of Environment, Sandeep Singh said she could not comment on the issue.