Monday, May 26, 2008


When growing up in Nalotu, Yawe in Kadavu, Semi Koroilavesau never dreamt that one day he would be a naval officer, forget being a director of a prominent cruise company.
Being the boss of the Captain Cook Cruises and travelling to nearly all the countries in the world was a far cry from his life at Nalotu.
He had made a name for himself in not only the cruise shipping sector, but also in the naval division of the Republic of the Fiji Military Forces where he finished of with the rank of a Commander.
He is also a chairman of the Fiji Ports Corporation and is a qualified sea captain.
He said he was now enjoying the fruit of the sacrifice and the teachings of his parents, some of his teachers and the determination he had earlier in his younger days.
But the way to get there was not smooth sailing for Mr Koroilavesau who is commonly known as Commander Semi.
Life definitely did not come on a silver platter for him.
With seven siblings, his younger days were full of struggles, having to share whatever little they had.
But he said it was the strict upbringing from his parents that directed him to a good path in life.
"My father was a disciplinarian and my mother was caring and loving," he said.
And they were devoted Methodists who always ensured our faith was intact.
He said even though life in the village was the happiest thing he could think of, money was hard to obtain.
"My father had to struggle to support the family especially when there were eight of us," he said.
His father was a handy man at Richmond High School, who emphasised on education for all his children.
Commander Semi said since his father was a handy man, he and his siblings were able to get free education at Richmond.
Since they were staying at the Richmond School compound, he had to walk for about two hours to get to get to his primary school - Yawe District.
It was a two hour walk in the morning and another two hours back.
That went for six years from 1963 to 1968 until he passed his Fiji Intermediate Examination
That was a big relief for him as he would no longer walk long distances, because he lived in the school compound.
At Richmond, he used to help his mother sell food to the other students to get additional income for the family.
"My late mother used to make roti parcels and I helped sell it to the teachers and students," he said.
Commander Semi said his grandmother, a skillful handicraft maker, also contributed towards the family upkeep.
And every Saturday, he had no choice but to help his father at the plantation.
"We used to go in the morning and come back late in the afternoon," he said.
"That was something I dreaded and my father often reminded me that was what life in the village was all about.
"He told me that if I do not want to live that kind of life, I must study hard and try to get a good job after school," he said.
With determination and a strict upbringing Commander Semi was able to pass his Fiji Junior Examination in 1972 and secured a place at Lelean Memorial School.
"I boarded in Lelean from 1973 to 1975," he said.
Although life at boarding school was not easy, it was fun, he said.
Knowing very well the difficulties faced back at home, Commander Semi told his father to only give him his school fees and he would work for his pocket money.
"Me and the other students from the islands used to go to Indian families in Davuilevu and neighbouring areas and work for them on Saturdays after our chores from the hostel," he said.
"That's what you call kam-karo," he said.
He used to earn about $2 to $2.50 for cleaning their gardens and raking their compounds.
Commander Semi said that time there were a lot wild jackfruit at Davuilevu.
"We used to get that and sell them to the Indian families that we went to for 75 cents," he said.
"That was extra money for us."
He said the money was enough for their movies at the Regent in Nausori plus half a loaf of bread and butter.
"That time, we always ate kadrala (hard cassava), so the money we got, we bought our bread," he said.
He said one of the teachers then, Autiko Daunakamakama really moulded him well during those days.
"He is someone I always look up to," he said.
After passing Form Six, Commander Semi had a choice of whether to go to the University of the South Pacific or joined the military.
"Since I was not so disciplined that time with big hair and no care at all of how I looked, I thought the military would be the best place to get the discipline that I lacked," he said.
So he went for the officer cadet course in January 4, 1976.
He went to the naval division the same year and he stayed there for 18 years.
He was one of the two officers who started Captain Cook Cruises in 1988 while he was still in the military, but had to resign in 2003 to pursue his business dreams.
Commander Semi is married to Joanne, who is now his operations manager.
He has five children - his eldest son Alifereti is a naval officer and he is away training in Malaysia.
His second son Lars, a former navy personnel, is an engineer for Captain Cook Cruises.
His only daughter Ballina is in the US Air Force and two of his younger sons are also in America.
His youngest son is at home in Nakurakura and attending Nadi Airport School.
He has two grandchildren - Ballina and Josaia.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online