An operation to destroy two Vietnamese fishing vessels in Ngella, Central Province turned into a perilous experience that left two men injured.
The so-called blue boats were reportedly burnt on Wednesday inside the Mboli Passage as agreed to by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and Ngella landowners.
The boats were caught fishing illegally in Solomon Islands’ waters earlier this year, and the High Court ordered that they be destroyed after they failed to pass a sea worthiness examination. An agreement to destroy the boats was signed in August, but the process has been delayed.
Harry Pete told SIBC News he and another man were instructed to burn the ships after a meeting among the supervising authorities and local landowners, and one employee from the fisheries ministry decided to help them.
“They said ‘you light the matches and throw them inside the ship, then you jump,'” Mr Pete said. “We didn’t know what to do because it was a bigger thing than what we were thinking.”
The men emptied the two 20-gallon containers of petrol they were given onto the ship.
They struck a match and lit a piece of cloth doused in petrol. As they moved toward the engine room and prepared to throw in the cloth, the explosion occured.
“All three of us flew out — not because we jumped — we flew out because of the explosion that blew us out of the ship,” Mr Pete said.
They were engulfed in the flames from the explosion, he said.
The men had no advice on how to handle the fire, no safety gear.
“Shirts and pants were the only things covering our bodies,” Mr Pete said.
One of the men was burnt. Another man was left with a broken leg and later sought treatment at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara.
According to Mr Pete, Tulagi police made the announcement to burn the boats, and police, fisheries and maritime officials were watching the operation from two speedboats floating near the ships.
They said they felt the heat of the explosion from where they were metres away.
“It was a big thing,” Mr Pete said. “It was a near-death experience.”
Details are still emerging about the incident, and SIBC News will update the story with information from authorities.
By Charlie Salini