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Back into waters, fisherman shares ‘scary’ sea surge ordeal

Tuesday 25 January 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in National, Weather

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Back into waters, fisherman shares ‘scary’ sea surge ordeal

Fisherman Junior Ioapa made the most of the calmer seas early yesterday morning catching 10 decent sized and one weighing 15 kilo yellow fin tuna.

Ioapa headed out to sea from Avana harbour and moored in at Avatiu harbour, pleased with his successful catch. 

“Iro (Maroroa) also got a good catch this morning, it’s time to be out fishing again and catching fish,” he added.

After the high sea surge on Friday night caused by the eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano in Tonga that had caused panic at Avatiu harbour and the extreme weather over the weekend, Ioapa was thankful his boat was still intact to continue his livelihood – fishing.

Ioapa said the fishermen had not received any warning or alert of any sort from Emergency Management Cook Islands (EMCI) or relevant agencies on Friday.

Ioapa said: “There was no warning of any sort, I received a phone call late that night from guys at the wharf who said something was happening with the waves in the harbour… I clicked and thought of what had happened in Tonga that afternoon...”

He arrived at the harbour about 10.30pm while the waves were surging and the sea was starting to drain out, jumped on board his boat and zoomed out of the harbour to the ocean.

“Other guys jumped onto theirs, about eight boats took off, we all went out to sea where it was safer and to wait for the sea surges to settle.

“Inside the harbour was scary but out in the ocean was okay, it was safer out there,” he said.

After a few hours at sea and when the high seas surges had calmed a bit, the boats headed back into Avatiu about 2am on Saturday morning.

“We came in one by one, the other guys at the harbour had the trailer ready for each boat to be brought up out of the water.

“Because of the sea surges it wasn’t easy getting our boats out onto the trailer, but everyone worked it all out and we got our boats out.”

Ioapa said he was lucky his boat only had a cracked cover for his outboard motor. 

“One of the boats capsized and the ropes had snapped off two of the larger vessels … if we had received a warning about the possible high sea surges, we could have already pulled our boats out and the bigger boats could have gone out to shelter.

“We are so close to Tonga, there should have been an alert put out anyway, it’s better to be safe,” he said.

Ioapa believes “those in charge” should have sounded an alert or something of the sort. 

“It’s a learning curve (excuse) is not good enough, what if someone got killed that night, we are lucky no one got hurt.”

Director of the Cook Islands Meteorological Service, Arona Ngari earlier explained: “Unfortunately we did not receive any tsunami warnings from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, PTWC in Honolulu, Hawaii.”

“None of the first six warnings were received by Cook Islands. These warnings are normally distributed in hourly intervals to all National Meteorological Services in the Pacific. This was not the case last Friday.”

Ioapa is now looking forward to calmer weather and catching more fish.