Sunday, July 10, 2011

Land Ahoy!

As you all know, last weekend was the 4th of July, and for any of you that were wondering...yes, the people down here do celebrate the 4th.  In fact, the islanders are a particularly celebratory bunch, so while they were at it, they threw in the 3rd as a holiday, too.  It’s considered Emancipation Day. 
For the USVI, St. John is the center of the celebration for the weekend of the 4th.  They have their own Carnival for the whole week leading up to the 4th, but there’s no doubt that the 4th is the biggest day of the Carnival week, as it includes, J’Ohvale (Marti Gras-like party starting very early in the morning), a parade and a fireworks display.  However, this year the grand finale wasn’t the fireworks.  It was after the fireworks, when the ‘captain’ of a ferryboat doing a special route for the holiday rammed the Royal Miss Belmar, carrying about 100 people, into dry land.
I don’t mean that this guy happened to accidentally hit a barrier reef and scrape bottom – no.  I mean that the ferry actually hit an island so hard that three quarters of the ferry was up on dry land.  As a result, 98 presumably half-bagged passengers and about 6 (apparently also half-bagged) crew members had to be rescued during the night. 

The newspaper reported that the rescue volunteers used a ladder to help people from the ferry down to another boat that took them to St. Thomas where treatment and shelter was provided to all 98 passengers.  This ladder broke at some point and they created a make-shift rope to transport the rest of the passengers from the ferry down to a rescue boat.  The rescue mission ended at about 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
Okay…let me get this straight.  A captain with a ferry full of passengers hits an island, rescuers use one ladder to get the passengers off the ferry, the one ladder breaks and a rope is somehow created to get the rest of the people off the boat.  Naturally, this fiasco took 7 1/2 hours to get all the people off the ferry and over to St. Thomas.  I mean, there are so many things wrong with this comedy of errors that I don’t even know where to begin. 
I think I’ll start with – what the hell was the captain doing when the boat somehow drifted into shallow waters and hit dry land?!  I’m not one to know my way around boats, but I know enough to understand that the liability of a ferryboat such as the Royal Miss Belmar requires all kinds of GPS and Sonar.  So, clearly none of the crew members were paying any attention to what they were supposed to be doing.  While the crew is being tested for drugs and alcohol, the managing director of the company that owns the ferry has said that she has no reason to believe that the operators were under the influence.  Really?  What other reason could she possibly need?
Let’s move on to the rope and the ladder, which the newspaper is referring to as ‘uncooperative equipment’.  Keep in mind that the following are all the responders that arrived at the scene of the accident: The Coast Guard, St. John Rescue, St. Thomas Rescue, VI Department of Planning and Natural Resources, VI Port Authority, SeaTow and the Park Service.  Apparently, the only device that all 7 organizations could come up with to rescue these people was a crappy ladder, and when that broke they ‘fashioned’ some sort of rope.  How is that possible?  Some of these poor passengers were so terrified to get onto the rescue boat via this broken down ladder and/or rope that they had to be tackled by the emergency crew to force them onto the boat.  Frankly, after this trauma, I wouldn’t be too keen on the would-be rope or the shoddy ladder, myself.  It would probably just be safer to jump into the ocean and swim the remaining distance to St. Croix, than to put your life into the hands of this crew.
I can’t even make this stuff up.  The incompetence of the entire situation is so completely unacceptable that it’s tough to believe.  And, I’m somewhat terrified to think about how this emergency would have been handled had there been life-threatening injuries for the passengers.  I mean, what would they do?  Bring in a patched up emergency dingy that needed to be blown up one breath at a time?
So, lesson learned.  Don't take a ferryboat on the biggest holiday weekend of the summer, after a long day of celebration, during the night, from St. John to St. Croix.  This lesson could save a life.              



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