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Missing on-board pet causes problems with Fiji Bio-Security

By SY Cursus Tempus — last modified Sep 29, 2014 10:11 AM

Published: 2014-09-21 23:00:00
Countries: Fiji

Missing on-board pet causes problems with Fiji Bio-Security

Mavis - still reported missing

We are Sam and Andy with two Devon rex cats Mavis and Nude dude on a ‘rusty Bavaria 49’ travelling from England to Australia.  We decided to sail to Australia (our final destination) because the ‘Trans fur ‘ pet transport company did not guarantee that my beloved cats would survive the trip or allow me to travel with them and I didn’t want their ears to pop basically.  I had never sailed before and have struggled with sickness for over a year BUT I love my cats.

Everything with the cats has been fine so far, and we are on the 2nd to last leg of the journey before quarantine in Sydney Australia.

On Thursday 4th September 2014 between 1230 and 1830, Mavis - one of our much loved cats - went missing from the boat.  We are on a mooring outside the Waitui Marina, Savu Savu, Fiji.

Mavis can swim so we have been canvassing with posters searching the beaches and streets.  The locals are very friendly and have been looking also. My concern is that despite no valuables removed from the boat, two areas were disturbed on the boat which is not normal.  At 0310 a few days prior I heard several Males on a local handmade raft travel down the side of the yacht towards the swim platform, I shone my torch and  I received  a ‘good evening’- which is unusual because 2030 is a late night in the South Pacific.  A few days after this a yacht at anchor was broken into by someone on a bamboo raft.

When you come to Fiji, you have to pay a bond of $1,500 per cat, which is forfeited if the cat is missing from the boat. My husband reported Mavis’ disappearance the next working day and told biosecurity he would update them on Monday 8th.  On the 9th we were called by the Marina to say that Biosecurity were coming to see us, and without any law or legislation they stated that we were to be fined a further $1600 for the offence shown below:

Section 29 of the Biosecurity Promulgation 2008. This section states the following,

Environmental obligations of masters and captains

29.—(1)       The master of every incoming vessel must, while the vessel is in the Fiji Islands—

(a) take all necessary steps to prevent any animal on board the vessel  from making contact with any animal on shore unless permitted by a biosecurity officer, and then only as directed by the officer.

(7) A master who contravenes subsection (1)(b), fails to take all reasonable steps as required by subsection

(1)(a), (2), (3) or (4) or fails to obey a direction of a biosecurity officer given under any of those subsections commits an offence.

My husband is a retired UK Metropolitan Police officer who served 32 years and I was a Police Community Support Officer for 7 years with the UK Met, we have both issued FPNs, we know without explaining the legislation the ticket is null and void and of course the person has to be proven to be guilty of the offence.  We immediately went to the Biosecurity to find out the legislation:

Offence: Not taking reasonable grounds to keep my pets from being in contact with Fiji animals.

They told us to write to their legal team so we sat in a café and wrote a letter to hand deliver, one of the biosecurity employees appeared from nowhere and gave us an email address which we only found out was incorrect 3 days later, when he approached us in the street to ask us when we were going to pay the fine.  It is now over 7 days which is the period given from receipt of the FPN to pay, otherwise we go straight to court.  Despite their evidence on the ticket only being ‘Andy Chowns came into the Biosecurity office on 5th September to report cat Mavis missing from SY Cursus Tempus’.

We have travelled from England with two cats in all conditions and they have stayed on the boat safely.  The whole boat is surrounded by net, we chose to moor out on a buoy to give any stray dog or cat no means of reaching the boat. My cats hate water and at 10 years of age have no other interests than eating, sunbathing and washing.  Currently there is no proof that Mavis has drowned or set foot on land, neither do we have proof she was taken from the boat.

In an English court I consider that we would have a good chance of a verdict in our favour, hence the anxiety is that despite not having any evidence their ‘legal team’ is still pursuing the fine.  Being shadowed by their employees in the street, feels like harassment and the FPN, extortion and corruption – which I don’t want to encourage.

I would stress at this point that my primary concern is to find my cat. The additional stress of being financially penalised is secondary but adds strain to an already stressful situation.

The Male who issued the fine has since come to the boat to change the date on the FPN; this would make the FPN null and void in the UK.  We have not refused the Biosecurity team a thing because to do this you would not be complying with the conditions of the agreement to be in Fiji waters.

We sent a letter to their legal team but they have advised a court date.  If we stay for the court date we have to stay in Fiji for cyclone season.  We obviously did not predict any of this, we did not reserve a cyclone mooring here because we did not realise we would stay so long.  We have stayed way too long already because my husband knows how broken I would be never knowing if I have left the cat behind or not.

To date there has not been one sighting of my cat, if she is found biosecurity want to kill her. Fiji have a huge problem with American iguanas, that were introduced by some inconsiderate person, and they are doing their best to eradicate this species that have damaged their ecosystem.  But to kill a cat that cannot reproduce, has all anti-rabies shots, and can’t catch fleas seems perverse.  The streets here are littered with dogs that are hungry and in need of veterinary care.  Since I have got here I have been working with locals to tame some of the animals and re-home them.

We are waiting on advice of a local lawyer to see if we can have the court date bought forward in order to contest this fine,  but all biosecurity need to do is to not turn up to the hearing to form an adjournment.   I have spoken to a dog owner who had his dog taken in Fiji and returned after offering a reward through the local paper.  We have taken advice from locals to not put reward on our advertisement or in the article for fear of encouraging a business in animal napping.  We were told that hostels are regularly broken into and the goods passed to another to receive the found reward.  We have been pursuing the Fiji Sun and Times but have had no reply as yet.

We feel we have been treated poorly by the biosecurity team, the FPN would not stand up in court but we cannot stay for the court date because the hurricanes have already started in Mexico.  I hate injustice, I hate corruption. If we do not pay the fine they still have the bond for Dude my other cat in their possession.   If we do not pay the fine we will be arrested at our next port.  If we do not pay the fine we will not be welcomed back in the country, and I wanted to work with Fiji Animal to start going into schools to teach about caring for animals (in my spare time!).

Further Developments

Friday 19th, biosecurity called the Marina and wanted to come to the boat but we were busy with a mechanic working on the generator.  We went to the solicitor prior to going to biosecurity, he told us to pay the fine because the legislation that the biosecurity team had shown us was not the full legislation.  The full legislation is basically if your animal is not on the boat you incur the fine and if you go to court you can be fined up to $50,000.  When I told the solicitor how much the team have been hounding us he explained that there is a very real bribe culture in Fiji but to not bother to enter into such a transaction because they are unlikely to destroy the ticket (we would not have considered this).  The solicitor added that despite having a receipt for the fine payment the court date will still run and they are still likely to issue a bench warrant for our arrest on the 10th of October for not appearing in court.  We have now been given a cyclone mooring so we can stay to make sure we are not wanted by the Police.

Sam
SY Cursus Tempus

Sam and Andy's cat is still missing. "Mavis" is a pedigree Devon Rex cat, and has been spayed; she has wrinkly semi-furless skin and a hanging stomach (looks like she has been shaved and is pregnant). She is a friendly cat. Mavis has had cat flu since a kitten and she needs medication and supplements daily to keep the symptoms at bay. If found please contact Ben on 8692906 or Waitui Marina on 885 3447.

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