Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Does anyone know of Eroni Vaceucau?

Searching for a hero is a great story in today's Fiji Times as a New Zealand woman would like to find the man who rescued her in a maritime disaster in 1968. Perhaps his family will read the story in today's papers. The story reminds me of the Loch Ard shipwreck at Port Campbell, but that was in the 1870s when Eva Carmichael was rescued by a young midshipman, Tom Pearce. Both were eighteen at the time.

Kiwi woman looks for her heroWednesday, April 09, 2008

19-year-old Kate McGibbon (now Watson) and her rescuer Eroni Vakacegu on the shore near Eastbourne, on April 10, 1968. Picture: Courtesy of Kate Watson
Update: 2:37PM A New Zealand woman is looking for the Fijian man who rescued her in a maritime disaster 40 years ago.

Kate Watson, 59, was 19 when the Wahine capsized and sank, claiming 51 lives and deemed as New Zealand's worst maritime disaster 40 years ago. And she will never forget Eroni Vakacegu, who saved her life. Ms Watson, an artist now living in Queenstown, recalls her life jacket flipping back over her head when she hit the sea. She said Mr Vakacegu grabbed and pulled her into a rubber dinghy, directing the 10 people on board to a safe landing at Pencarrow Heads.

Mr Vakacegu was later singled out by the Court of Inquiry for his heroism in distributing the people in (the life raft)" and in doing so to ensure its safe passage to the eastern shore before going back into the surf after reaching the shore to help another survivor.

Ms Watson has made the photo of the pair available in the hope that someone might pass on information about the man who saved her life. This image and her story can be found here:

As New Zealand remembers its worst maritime disaster 40 years on, her story of rescue and heroism is told on the website as part of the feature on the event at

from the recommended website: (Notice the different spelling of name)
A Fijian heroThe Court of Inquiry into the Wahine disaster reported that:

'A Fijian named Eroni Vaceucau rendered great service to other people both on the vessel and at the abandonment and later by taking charge of a liferaft, distributing the people in it to best advantage, doing much to ensure its safe passage to the eastern shore, and then going back into the surf after reaching the shore to help another survivor.'
And an excerpt from her story:
For some reason I ended up on the Port side of the ship instead of the Starboard where we were meant to be to get on the life boats. I came across a man from Fiji [Eroni Vaceucau] who was also on the Port side I presume helping to get people off. I quickly told him I was lost and could he help me get off. He told me to be very careful and follow him. I can remember climbing around the outside rail of the deck and being really terrified in case I slipped, as that would have been the end of me if I did lose my grip!! Then we slid down a kind of chute and were onto the lower part of ship on starboard side. The Fijian jumped in the sea and I followed him. Luckily he was there to grab me, as my life jacket had flipped back over my head on impact after jumping into the sea. Obviously I hadn't done it up properly and there was no one who had time to check those kinds of things while on the ship. The waves were still quite big and there was a large swell, although it was no where as bad as earlier on. The Fijian man pulled me into a rubber dingy. There were about 10 people in it. We were being tossed around a lot and every time a big wave came at us, we all had to pull the edges of the dingy up to try and ride the wave. The Fijian man was giving directions. We were all singing songs and one woman was saying her prayers. We sang cheerful songs like 'pack up your troubles in an old kit bag' etc!! We seemed to drift out to sea again and it seemed to be hours, but probably only about 1½ hrs, before we were taken over to Pencarrow heads by the currents. We came ashore over there riding in on some very big waves and nearly losing our balance a few times. Luckily we missed all the rocks around the area. Others were not so lucky. It was a wonderful feeling being on land again. Everyone seemed a bit dazed.


Watson K said...

Hi, I know Ratu Eroni Vakacegu. I don't know him personally, but my uncles were raised up with him. They tell me that he is the man they praise him to be, others first, self last. He is survived by his only child and daughter, Adi Tui... commonly known as DiTui who I might add was raised in Labasa.
You're right, his good deed did go unoticed, but in the lives of the people that got to know him, he was a very noble and humble man, which earned him the respect of many men. NZ's Court of Inquiry has singled him out with an award of heroeism, Fiji should too. In fact, this trait of selflessness and noble character has rubbed off onto his daughter. She has earned the respect of many with her mannerisms and alas... noble and humble charater.

Watson K said...

If I may add, Kate Watson isn't the first person from beyond the shores of Fiji to have come and search for him with noble intentions:-) Remember the great rugby centre for the All Blacks, Eroni Clark..? His father named his son after this same hero... and yep, you guessed it, for the great person he was! Clarke came to our shores a few years ago to find his yaca... A true Fijian hero... you can find out from Eroni Clark himself...

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thank you Watson K for your contribution to this topic. Ratu Eroni certainly acted in a chiefly manner, helping people, taking action. It would be nice to find his daughter Ditui. Seems like she may have been in Labasa when we were living at Nukutatava and Vatuadova!

Anonymous said...

I know it's been awhile since the 40th Year Commemorating the Wahine Disaster. But I feel that I still need to write this to honour Ratu Eroni Vakacegu.
My name is Eroni Clarke, I have represented NZ on a number of occasions and played for Auckland most of my rugby life. I come from a well represented sporting family, which part of why I write too. I was named after this great man because of a great friendship my father formed with him. My father was priviledged to have won a scholarship to study in NZ during the 60's. He schooled in Wanganui Boys College where he met Eroni Vakacegu. They connected as they had so much in common. My father would tell me that Eroni played in the midfield as well and was one of the stars for the First XV and dad played open side or no. 8. So strong was their friendship that they made a pact that their first born sons they would name after the other. My father soon after returning to Samoa married, began his family & honoured his pact with his fijian friend. I have always wanted to meet Eroni, and have tried to find him on a couple of occasions. One to let him know my father kept his side of their pact and to meet someone that made such an impact on him... and to let him know I've tried to represent us "Eroni" well in life.
I was touched one morning when my father rang me and said if I had read the NZ Herald and said no, and when I looked, there he was Ratu Eroni pictured with Kate Watson having rescued her from rough seas. It was my first proper look at Eroni. I felt honoured & humbled to say the least.
To see and read the stories of the type of man Ratu Eroni was makes me feel proud. I know Eroni didn't have a son, but wonderful daughter Adi who is so much like her father, I would be blessed to meet one day.
So Thank you Ratu Eroni, I have never met you but with accounts of you from my Father, Kate Watson & many others I feel like I know you. Rest well. Eroni Clarke

Watson K said...

Hey there Mr.Clarke!
It's very nice of you to drop in and confirm my story :) Am really delighted to know you acknowledged it!
Thank you very much for this piece, I shall show it to Ratu Eroni's daughter who I know would be delighted to catch up with you:)
As you well know, Ratu Eroni didn't have a son, but a daughter.. who gave her son the name, Aaron :)
Please let me know, here's my contact:, and Adi's contact:

Best Regards!