Clayton Viliamu is an experienced fisherman from the village of Alofi South but last Friday his gamble on going out in poor sea conditions landed him in some serious trouble when his canoe capsized as he crashed onto the sharp rocks of the reef, not far from where he launched.
Viliamu who is from a family of fishermen shared his experience with BCN News today. “What happened was I knew the sea conditions wasn’t good, but it was good enough for me to do what I had to do but the outcome was different that day. It was an eye-opener for me. The current was too strong, and I got capsized”, he recalled.
Clayton Viliamu, father of three was prepared for his fishing trip as he does every time he goes out. He had his life jacket and his phone in the pouch. “Always safety before going out to sea. My contingency plan is always planned before I go fishing.
And one thing that’s always in my mind is that I have to come home, always be back home”.
Clayton said that when his canoe capsized, he knew that he had a better chance of getting help if he contacted a group chat, so he first messaged his siblings group chat. “ I used my siblings’ group chat, surely enough the first person that answered first was brother in Australia, so I knew I had some help.”
“I tried the vaka group chat and then I tried calling my Mum because regardless she will answer the phone, whether she’s at bingo or at church or anywhere”.
There were a few attempts to reach Clayton and to rescue him from the reef rock he was stranded on. The first attempt was by his brother Floyd who reached him on his canoe but Clayton didn’t want to risk his brother’s life.
Seeing his brother calmed him but he was more concerned for his younger brother as well because for Clayton, safety was first and he noticed that his brother didn’t have his life jacket on “but he didn’t have a life jacket on so I told him to let me go and told him to go back to shore”
Clayton said that maybe an hour later it was getting dark his father turned up in a small fishing boat but they didn’t have the right rescue gear for the rough conditions “My old man and Clinton turned up, I told them to get more help”
Clayton was able to stand up and was calm at the time, so he could wait for another rescue attempt. but he felt safe where he was stranded on a rock because he was able to stand up.
The final rescue was when BJ Rex, Launoa Gataua, and Clinton Chapman returned in BJ’s boat with the right rescue gear.
When asked what this near-drowning incident means to him, he said that the key lesson for him is not to panic.
“The key lesson is no matter if you’re an experienced fisherman, before you do anything else, use your head and don’t panic.
“I almost panicked I remember one workshop listening to a couple of fishermen and they said that if you panic, you won’t get anything out of it. Like Brendon Pasisi said that if you’re gonna do it once. You have to do it right to get back home. Save your energy and do what’s right” said Clayton Viliamu.
As the rescue attempts were made to bring him to shore, many people had gathered at the Kalaone sea track and moved over to the Sir Roberts Wharf to wait for him as he was being brought back to shore.
An emotional scene greeted him as family and friends including his fishing community were there to see the rescue boat winched above and onto Sir Roberts Wharf, away from the rough seas. BCN cameras were there to capture the moment when his brother Floyd reached and held him in a bear hug, both fishermen knowing that the incident was a near miss.
Clayton Viliamu extends his heartfelt gratitude to his family for their swift actions to start the rescue efforts and the rescuers who brought him home.
Viliamu is an ambulance driver at the Health Department and he was very grateful to see his team there at the wharf waiting for him, checked to make sure he was okay before sending him home to his family.