Cargo boat heading to Trinidad capsizes…Cook trapped in vessel, feared dead
By Zena Henry
Terror struck late yesterday afternoon when a 65- foot cargo vessel destined for Trinidad and Tobago
capsized in the Demerara River, about quarter mile offshore.
Seven crewmen were on board. One of the vessel’s occupants’, 63-year-old Gerald Da Silva, the cook, was still trapped inside the overturned boat up to press time. The others were rescued by passenger boats traversing the Georgetown-Vreed-en-Hoop crossing.
Kaieteur News was told that the cook got trapped in the boat because he went back for a haversack. The captain had said that everyone was up at the time of the incident and that the cook was in the kitchen. The man said that the crew quickly got life jackets and abandoned ship.
The cook, however, said that he was heading back for the bag.
Eyewitnesses said that the incident occurred a short time after 17:00 hours. A man who operates a passenger vessel at the Georgetown stelling said that he was heading over to the Vreed-en-Hoop stelling with passengers when he saw the boat capsize.
The man said he noticed that an excavator was aboard the vessel. He said that it appeared as if the boat was turning, but in doing so, the excavator began sliding toward one side of the vessel. For a while, he said the boat was leaning to starboard and then without warning it capsized.
He said numerous passenger vessels raced to the scene to render their assistance. From where he was positioned, the eyewitness said he saw persons waving their hands in the air, signaling for assistance. He said the men were wearing life jackets.
Soon after the incident, persons said small items and other contents from the ship were seen floating down stream.
Scores of persons flocked the wharf behind the market to get a glimpse of the overturned vessel. The market constabulary officers had their work cut out for them as they fought feverishly to remove, and to keep persons off the wharf.
For one thing, they argued that in light of the recent break-in and the occurrences of robberies in the market they were obligated to regulate the number of on-lookers. They also said that another mishap could have occurred when the overcrowded wharf started to sag under the mass of persons that herded the area.
Members of the Coast Guard responded to the disaster and created a perimeter around the ship before other rescuers moved in. The rescue team then mounted the toppled boat and proceeded to sound the vessel. The men hammered on the bottom of the boat and that facilitated a response from anyone trapped inside the boat.
Darkness fell and the rescuers were still at work.
Minister of Public Works and Transport, Robeson Benn, said that the vessel left Muneshwer’s Wharf around 16:00hours. He said that the boat was carrying timber, rice, coal, and coconuts.
The Minister also said that the Water authorities, Coast Guard and Marine Police were quick to respond to the mishap. He said the Coast Guard officials were hammering the hull of the boat and they received two returning sounds, mobile torches and welders were later brought in.
The minister however said that there was no response when the sounding continued. He further said that from where the sounds were emanating it is believed that there may have been fuel tanks and other explosive materials and thus an attempt to weld the area would not have been met with a positive result.
Minister Benn however said that today the ship will be pulled in shallow waters and the work will continue on how they could salvage the boat and make the recovery.
The captain of the vessel, St. Vincent national, Justin Bino, said that he realized as soon as he departed the wharf that the ship started to lean and was taking in water. He said that he decided that he was no longer going out to sea and was lining up to go back to the wharf to adjust the cargo.
That is when he said the boat started to take in water from the starboard side. “She started to take in water from the side and she kept going and never turned back.”
Bino said that apart from himself and the missing cook, Ronald Saroop; first mate, Deodat; Chief Engineer, Victor Christopher; second engineer, Anthony Bowen; and Sahadeo Baldeo were on board.
Both the captain and Minister Benn ruled out overload as the cause of the accident. The captain said that the boat manages 750 tons but was at the time bearing 550 tons.
One trader, Carlos De Freitas who had 73,000 coconuts aboard the vessel said he may have lost in excess of $4M.
A source close to the safety authorities however argued that the incident was as a result of negligence on the part of wharf authorities. He confirmed that an excavator was aboard the ship, but explained that the vessel was at the time being loaded, and this was not done properly.