Soft Coral

Accident during Drydock

Date: 25th Feb 10
By: Rob Barrel, Managing Director

There was a tragic explosion aboard NAI’A while she was in the shipyard completing her yearly refit. On January 31, a shipyard painter lit a cigarette in the fume-filled hull of the ship, igniting an explosion that ruined the entire passenger accommodation area. There were no passengers or crew aboard at the time and sole responsibility for the accident lies with the shipyard.

Lesser ships would have been destroyed, but NAI’A’s stubborn Dutch steel withstood the explosion and our attention to fire prevention when we built the interior kept a fire from starting.

We have completed the design of an all-new interior featuring numerous double beds that can be converted to individual singles as need be. The plumbing, lighting and surface finishes are all the most modern available. Reconstruction is well underway and we expect the ship to be finished by the beginning of May.

In the meantime, we have chartered the M/V Lycianda, a somewhat larger ship belonging to Blue Lagoon Cruises and big sister to the well-loved Truk Odyssey, with which to run the next few charters while we rebuild NAI’A’s staterooms. We follow the same NAI’A itineraries, with our usual cruise directors, crew, food, comfort and diving standards. NAI’A is a special and much-loved ship. But our dive services - especially the vital triangle of our independent skiffs, dedicated guides and magnificent coral reefs - are the main reason you are joining us. The spirit of NAI’A will carry on even if a different hull temporarily carries the load.

Stan Waterman led the first group to use the M/V Lycianda and these are his comments:

The disastrous explosion that occurred when NAI’A was in drydock could have grounded a less enterprising company for many months. To the surprise - and relief - of all of us who were signed up for the February 6-13 tour, the NAI’A spirit was alive and well, just contained in another vessel.

The 130-foot tourist cruise ship, Lycianda, did the job. In one week of Herculean effort the NAI’A crew tidied up the luxury vessel and added the requisite amenities needed for a boat dedicated to divers. Those of us who were veterans of NAI’A cruises were welcomed aboard by familiar faces. We were back with the family, received with the warmth that has always marked the relationship of guests to crew on NAI’A. Only the Captain and Chief Engineer from the Lycianda supplemented the original NAI’A crew. The cabins were roomy and comfortable. The air conditioning worked like a champ. For this old camper the instant hot water and good shower were a joy.

Our first dinner confirmed my hope that the Lucullian repasts, provided by Peni and Josh, NAI’A’s amazing gourmet chefs, would delight us through the whole week. Sere and Sulianna dispensed the excellent wines as long as the glasses were offered. When I am home I often dream of the dinners on NAI’A and wake up sobbing. The hospitality was still 100% intact. When the crew was introduced to their guests that first evening, they arrived with their guitars to regale us with their wonderful strong Fijian voices and songs.

The weather favored the first dive that afternoon to prep us for the smooth process of safe diving, assignment to the two familiar skiffs, stowage of our gear, dip tanks, etc. All went off without a hitch. Nothing was missing from the careful, diver-friendly routine that has served NAI’A all these years.

Our diving itinerary followed the familiar locations. The magnificent colors of the soft coral and profusion of reef life for which Fiji is famous astounded the divers new to Fiji diving and gratified us familiar with it. The requisite visit to one of the small island villages and the warmth with which we were received renewed my respect for those generous, hospitable people. The kava flowed, dancing commenced and the entire village - men, elders, women and children erupted with laughter and pleasure when one of our lady guests drew out the oldest man in the village for a dance. The octogenarian met the challenge with a nimble foot. It was wonderful. The visit was all heart on both sides.

You will know from the above that the NAI’A family knocked themselves out to meet the emergency with an interim service that would uphold NAI’A’s reputation in every way.  I will return again next year - as I have every year - to host a tour on the beautiful old lady. Long before that she will have healed her wounds, slid down the ways newly minted, and taken up her regular schedules. Meanwhile, the Lycianda will pitch hit and serve very well. Our bunch were happy campers and had a wonderful time. Scurvy failed to show up and rack of lamb graced the menu, as it always will.

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