Cargo vessel disaster…Missing cook had complained about over-laden vessel minutes before mishap
Minutes before the Miss Ellisa capsized on Friday, veteran seaman Gerald Da Silva had expressed concern that the cargo vessel was over-laden. He was also concerned about the apparent haste to reach their destination, his wife said yesterday.
Da Silva, the vessel’s 67-year-old cook, was reportedly trapped in the 65-foot vessel when it capsized in the Demerara River shortly after leaving the Muneshwer’s Wharf.
Divers who scoured the vessel yesterday failed to locate the missing man, and it has been suggested that his body is still trapped in some inaccessible section of the craft or that it floated away.
Minister of Public Works and Transport, Robeson Benn, told Kaieteur News yesterday that efforts will be made within a few days to tow the vessel closer to land. However, relatives of the missing cook reported yesterday evening that the owner of the cargo boat had towed it close to Customs House.
Some of the missing cook’s close relatives have remained outside Muneshwer’s Wharf and near the Stabroek Market wharf since the mishap.
Da Silva’s spouse, Jean Thompson, told Kaieteur News that she last saw her husband around 08:00 hrs on Friday, when he left home to board the Miss Ellisa.
She said that her husband had expected that the vessel would have departed at midnight. However, he then called around 17:30 hrs to inform her that they were departing.
“He call and say that the people change their mind and that they leaving. He said ‘I don’t know why they hurry to go right now. The back of the boat is down (low in the water) and it (the vessel) overloaded.
He say ‘you hear the engine?’ and I say yes. He said ‘you know I love you’, and I say ‘yes, I will pray for you.’”
Ms. Thompson said that shortly after, Da Silva’s son called to inform her that the vessel her husband was on had capsized. “When I call, the phone go to voice-mail.”
Da Silva’s wife alleged that on the previous voyage to Trinidad, the seaman had also complained of overloading and of what he perceived to be their haste to reach their destination.
“The last time he say that the boat below the blue seal and that they reach in two days instead.”
The woman alleged that after the disaster, another crew-member told her that the Miss Ellisa had been over-laden during the journey
Relatives said that Da Silva knew how to swim, and had been working some 36 years at sea.
Speaking to Kaieteur News yesterday, Minister Robeson Benn said that divers had searched the “accessible portions of the vessel”, without locating the missing cook.
“They found the usual cargo…but did not find anyone.”
“He (Da Silva) could be stuck in some part (of the boat) or his body could have washed out; in which case we will do some searches in the western side of the harbour.
Minister Benn said that information suggests that the vessel began listing “by the first bouy.” “They tried to shift the cargo and the listing became more pronounced, and they decided to return to Muneshwer’s Wharf, and when they tried to make the turn (back to the wharf) the vessel capsized and this happened quickly.”
According to Benn, the ‘water taxis’ and the Harbour Master responded, followed by the Coast Guard.
“The water taxis took the crew off the vessel and they were transferred to the Maritime boats.”
Minister Benn dismissed suggestions that Da Silva could have been rescued had divers been brought to the scene promptly.
“If there were divers at the site, probably they would have come up with the same result.
“The Coast Guard guys were hammering (on the overturned vessel) and we thought that maybe there was someone (inside).”
He added that cutting torches and gas tanks were brought to the scene, with the intention of cutting into the vessel, but then it was determined that the sounds had come from an area where there were ballast and fuel tanks, and were not being made by the missing cook.
“The knocking had to be some of the cargo floating around. The experts decided that if there was someone there, that person is dead, or not in the vessel.”
He assured that an investigation will be launched into the circumstances that led to the mishap.
Disaster struck late Friday afternoon, when the vessel destined for Trinidad and Tobago capsized in the Demerara River, about quarter mile offshore.
Seven crewmen were on board at the time.
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, reportedly said that he was heading back for the bag.
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 on 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 craft. 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.
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 captain of the vessel, St. Vincent national, Justin Bynoe, 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 preparing to return 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.”
Bynoe 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.