Fijian sailor was murdered – report

By Anish Chand

An investigation by Human Rights at Sea has found that a Fijian may have murdered another Fijian ship-worker in Panama in July 2017.

Human Rights at Sea has published a redacted report that included statements of witnesses detailing the background to the killing in Panama of Fesaitu Riamkau, a Fijian crewman who was working on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel flagged to Vanuatu.

At the time of his death, the cause of death for Fesaitu was attributed “to falling overboard.”

An eye-witness, an Indonesian, has now claimed that Fesaitu was murdered and his killer was a man from Wailoku, a suburb in Suva, Fiji.

The Indonesian crewman had told Gerry Semisi that he witnessed the killing, said the HRS report.

Fesaitu and Semisi worked together for five years.

Semisi said they departed Lautoka on the fishing boat ‘Gilontas 353.’ It was registered in Vanuatu, but its agent was a Fijian. The crew included Indonesians, Koreans, and Vietnamese.

“I think we left in March. We went straight to Panama, no fishing; we had to load our boat before going  fishing. When we got to Panama, we lived in a hotel nearby, and during the day we’d work on the wharf and boats belonging to the same company,” Semisi told HRS.

Recalling what happened on the night Fesaitu died, Semisi said it was a Saturday night and there were other Fijian men there working in other boats.

“Altogether there were about ten Fijians on different boats in Panama port; we all went to boat for a talanoa (social get together) although we were supposed to be in the hotel and not on the boat. Six of us waited for them to finish talanoa but we left without them and they said they’d come later; we left after 10. ‘Itu (Fesaiitu) wasn’t drinking.” Semisi confessed.

“We were told that the CCTV on the jetty recorded Fesaitu staggering along it very late at night; he fell in but climbed up the ladder and tried to walk along but he fell in again,” he said.

On the Sunday afternoon his body was seen floating in the harbour.

“There was an Indonesian man who told us what happened; he saw everything. I forgot his name but can describe his face; he was a close friend of Fesaitu. The Indonesian man said it might be a fluke; I don’t know what he meant by that. A man (from Wailoku) beat ‘Itu up so badly; lifted him up and whacked him on the side of the boat; very bad. He’s a big man. I don’t know why he got angry; it was between him and my uncle. A very strong man,” Semisi told HRS.

“It was after one week, the next Sunday, that the Indonesian man came to tell us; and his vessel left the same day. He didn’t tell the Police what he had seen because he was afraid,” Semisi said.

“All of the Fijian men there knew, said they’ll wait for when he (alleged killer) comes back to Fiji. I don’t think he had a knife, just used his fist. Pushing and punching. All the Fijians know him, he’s still on the boats,” Semisi claimed in his statement.

The Fijian Government through the Ministry of Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations repatriated the body of Riamkau to Fiji following his death.
The Ministry investigated the matter and arranged with the employer to repatriate the body of the worker to Fiji under our laws.  In collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the body of the deceased worker arrived into the country on 4 August 2017.  

The Workers’ Compensation Service of the Ministry of Employment has also successfully applied for and received workers’ compensation from the employer in the amount of FJ$50,000 (USD23.6k) which was paid to the family of Fesaitu.