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Friday 1 April 2016 | Published in Regional


FIJI – A traditional Fijian voyaging canoe – the Uto Ni Yalo – has carried tonnes of cyclone relief supplies to the country’s former capital, Levuka, which was devastated by category five Cyclone Winston in February.

The Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which owns the traditional canoe, sailed into Levuka on the island of Ovalau where houses, schools and roads were destroyed.

“Levuka was one of the worst-hit maritime communities in the Fiji group post Cyclone Winston,” Uto Ni Yalo Trust secretary Dwaii Qalovaki said.

“Our task was to carry two tonnes of relief supplies to the community of Baba.”

Levuka is a town on the eastern coast of the Fijian island of Ovalau, in Lomaiviti Province, in the Eastern Division of Fiji.

At the census in 2007, the last to date, Levuka town had a population of 1131.

It was formerly the capital of Fiji. After Fiji was annexed as a British colony in 1874, Levuka remained the capital until 1877, when the administration was moved to Suva.

The Uto Ni Yalo, which uses large sails to navigate the seas, was part of a fleet of traditional canoes that embarked on a voyage from Cook Islands to Sydney to highlight the threat of climate change in 2014.

Much like that epic voyage, the 22-metre-long Uto Ni Yalo encountered difficulties with low wind conditions while sailing towards Levuka which is off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, some 90 kilometres by sea from Suva.

But the sailors were prepared for such contingencies.

“The Uto Ni Yalo is powered by nature, therefore we’re a wind sail vessel,” Qalovaki said.

“We had optimal sailing conditions right through until Friday morning, when we hit a bit of a dull spot out at sea, so we dropped our solar-powered propellers and motored into Levuka.”

Qalovaki said the presence of the Uto Ni Yalo gave victims an opportunity to come on board and share their experiences.

“A lot of the people that came through were very honest and their stories were really heartbreaking,” he said.

The Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which works to advance sustainable sea transportation by rejuvenating traditional boat building, navigation and voyaging, is keen to play a role in future disaster relief efforts.

“We have extended our communication to the United Nations as well as the Red Cross and other international donor agencies that are here in Fiji coordinating relief supply efforts,” Qalovaki said.

“We have taken every opportunity to let them know that the Uto Ni Yalo is on standby and we are ready to assist in whichever shape or form we can.”

“We have deployed out assets in the past like our satellite phones to Koroi and some of the other affected maritime communities to uphold the communications in the islands until the infrastructure is restored.”