The group had travelled to Rakahanga for the funeral of a relative aboard a Taio Shipping vessel which then continued its journey to Manihiki and Penrhyn. The vessel returned to uplift the passengers on a Saturday, but they were not permitted to board by the islands’ Seventh Day Adventist officials because their church regards the day is regarded a Sabbath. The vessel waited until evening before leaving Rakahanga, minus the 20 passengers wanting to return to Rarotonga.
Taio Shipping’s father and son managers, Tapi and Josiah Taio say that after 22 years of providing an inter-island shipping service, the Rakahanga Saturday ban on travel and unloading of cargo was an unfortunate first.
Taio senior says the Rakahanga mayor is a “new guy.”
“I think after that (last experience), he will soften up and he will want us to stay there for many Saturdays to come.”
The unwritten rules that apply to stevedoring a vessel on a Sunday are generally accepted throughout the Cook Islands. The Saturday ban is a new imposition. Josiah Taio says the company has always respected the Sunday rule. “That’s the way it’s always been and that’s the way we’ve always worked it.”
He said Taio Shipping planned each outer islands trip to avoid a vessel sitting around on a Sunday. We will delay a trip rather than have that happen.”
If Rakahanga’s mayor doesn’t change his stance, Taio Shipping and other vessels carrying passengers and cargo to the tiny northern island will have to write off Sunday as well as Saturday stopovers.
Josiah Taio says sitting idle costs the company money. About 70 people live on Rakahanga. He added there have been instances when an outer island has needed fuel to keep generators running and Cook Islands Christian Church leaders have permitted unloading on a Sunday to maintain electricity supply.
SDA President pastor Eliu Eliu says he hadn’t heard of the Rakahanga Saturday work ban, which would have been an internal decision made by members on the island and not sanctioned by head office in Rarotonga. He said it was normal for boats travelling to any outer island to be worked on a Saturday.
“Maybe it’s politics, because their member of Parliament is a SDA too, but we, the church, have never had anything to do with stopping a boat from working on a Saturday.”
He says normally church members would just choose not to participate working on their Sabbath, “unless it’s an emergency, then we will get involved.”
Pastor Eliu admitted he’s surprised that the SDA government officials on Rakahanga were even listened to by the people of Rakahanga, given that the vessel had called in especially to pick up 20 passengers.
“But it’s a local interpretation (of the Sabbath rules) and they’re probably trying to exert their influence. It shouldn’t have happened”. Eliu says he understands all church members are very devout in Rakahanga, prohibiting even travelling on motorbikes on Saturdays and Sundays.
Cook Islands Christian Church General Secretary Nga Mataio says this most recent incident highlights the need for common sense.
“If changing the rules makes people’s lives easier, then tomorrow’s generation will come in and make the changes, changes that are important to their lives like the rules applying to shipping in the outer islands.”
He says there are always exceptions to the rules, such as emergencies. In the case of Rakahanga it was 20 people who needed to return to Rarotonga and cargo to be offloaded. He likens the Rakahanga stand on Saturday work to the Aitutaki Sunday flights – a matter being dealt with internally by the islands, and says it had nothing to do with “head office.”
“Head office is not in a position to dictate to the outer islands what they should do, especially when we are boarding international flights on a Sunday here in Rarotonga.”
Mataio says the CIIC generally accepts that members don’t work in their plantations, go fishing or cut lawns on a Sunday.
But each situation should be treated with common sense, he says, recalling an occasion when ature (mackerel) entered Avana harbour on a Sunday. Church members approached the then reverend with their dilemma; the wish to net the ature on that day or wait in the hope the fish would still be there the next day.
The reverend told members since there was no certainty there would be ature on Monday and that the fish rarely returned to Avana harbour, they should go out netting. The members went netting and much ature was shared amongst the village.
Mataio says allowances must be made for valid reasons and it is sad when this doesn’t happen.