Updated: Mazaruni River crash death toll at seven
The bodies of six more persons from Tuesday’s Mazaruni River boat collision were recovered up to midday today, bringing the death toll to seven and further dimming hopes that there may be any survivors among those still missing.
The body of Keanu Amsterdam, 17, and Brazilian national Francisco Olivera Alves were discovered this morning after further searches some miles from the crash site. Also confirmed dead are Ulrick Grimes, 39, of Salem, East Bank Essequibo, who was found by relatives around 9 pm on Wednesday; Christopher Ramnarine, 21, of Parika, East Bank Essequibo, and Zahir Baksh, 34, of Kaneville, East Bank Demerara, who were found yesterday morning; Jewan Seeram of Tuschen, whose body was found by searchers early last evening; and Jermaine Calistro, 27, of Boodhoo Housing Scheme, East Bank Essequibo, whose body was found hours after the collision on Tuesday.
A source said that Amsterdam’s decomposed body was discovered floating around 7:15 am today and was immediately identified by family members, who were on the search team. At the time of the mishap, Amsterdam and his brother Ricky Bobb, 27, both mechanics, were heading out of the interior, he said.
Amsterdam who is of Barr Street, Kitty and Bartica, was reported to have been taken up by another person on the boat to work on some machinery. The man’s grandfather had told this newspaper that Amsterdam showed a great interest in mechanics and was pursuing it.
Based on the reports of survivors, the collision occurred around 12:30 pm in a part of the river where the rock-littered channel is very narrow. One boat was transporting nine passengers—seven Brazilians and two Guyanese—to Puruni, while the other boat which was exiting Puruni contained 13 persons.
After recovery, the bodies had to be transported to Lyken’s Funeral Home immediately as there was no storage for them owing to blackouts that have been plaguing Bartica for some time now. Stabroek News was told that officials told relatives of the dead men that that situation would have been sorted out but this apparently was not the case.
Post-mortem examinations were, however, performed on the bodies of Ramnarine and Baksh in Bartica just before they were transported to the city. Post-mortem examinations are expected to be performed on the other three bodies today.
An army official, in confirming the fifth discovery last evening, said that at the moment the searchers are looking to recover the bodies of four more persons. With the discovery of the two bodies this morning, those still missing are his brother, Ricky Bobb and Deon Moses.
Repeated efforts to make contact with Transport Minister Robeson Benn, Maritime Administration (MARAD) Director General Claudette Rogers and Regional Chairman Gordon Bradford for an update on the search and rescue operation and for comments on issues raised by survivors were futile yesterday. This newspaper was told that the trio was part of a team that travelled yesterday to the Crab Falls location where the collision occurred.
This newspaper also could not ascertain if the operations camp had been initiated yesterday as Benn had indicated. The camp was to have been established close to the collision site.
When contacted yesterday morning, police commissioner (ag) Leroy Brumell indicated that only one of the boat captains is in police custody. It is unclear why the other captain was released. The duo was arrested shortly after they were taken to Bartica by rescuers.
One of the boats is said to be tied up to a log at the crash site, while the other is still below surface after it broke in two.
Lennox Andrews, who identified himself as Grimes’ son, told Stabroek News yesterday that his father’s body was found floating in the water about 200 metres from Crab Falls around 9 pm.
He explained that following searches throughout the day on Wednesday, relatives decided that night to continue and it was then that they found his body. The body was transported to Bartica then to the Lyken’s Funeral Home in Georgetown. It reached the city before daybreak, this newspaper was told.
Andrews said that the death is even more devastating because Grimes leaves behind a two-year-old son. He had five older children.
According to Andrews, relatives are planning to bury him after the scheduled post-mortem, due to the decomposing state of the body.
This newspaper, during a visit to Bartica yesterday, was told that the bodies of Ramnarine and Baksh were discovered floating around 10am. A friend of Ramnarine said that he was a part of the search team yesterday morning that found him floating. He said he immediately identified him by identification marks. He said that his face was unrecognisable. Baksh’s body was reportedly found floating about a mile away.
Pandemonium broke out as the bodies of the men, wrapped in black plastic bags, arrived in a boat. Many persons had crowded the Bartica sea shore to get a glimpse, however, two men quickly identified the bodies and they were transported to Georgetown sometime later.
‘We had so much plans’
Relatives of a few of the missing persons also gathered at the Parika Wharf yesterday hoping that the bodies being transported from Bartica would not be their loved ones. Sarswati Charrna was among the crowd that gathered, waiting for word from the police about her husband, Zaheer Baksh. She said that she had lost all hope that her husband might be alive when she had heard the Minister of Transport declare that they were no longer searching for injured persons but had launched a recovery search for bodies.
She said that she had spoken to Baksh a few days before the accident, when he had called her and said that he was coming home. “He never came home. He call, you know, and it is always hard to get signal after you pass Bartica. I don’t know how he did it but he called. And he told me that he was coming home,” she said, adding that her husband told her that he would leave Puruni on Tuesday and would be home later that day.
She recalled that she had boarded a bus at the East Bank Bus Park when she overheard on the radio that a tragic boat accident had occurred in the Mazaruni River. “I knew something was wrong that very moment. I coulda feel it in my heart and I remember that he tell me that he coming home that same day. I felt that he might have been on that boat.”
She said that when she had reached their home at Kaneville, East Bank Demerara, a friend of her husband was waiting on her. “He tell me that my husband get in an accident,” she recalled. She said that for the last two days she had held on to the hope that he was alive and safe but that hope was crushed when she called the Police Station in Bartica yesterday and she learned that they had discovered his body floating in the river.
“My husband was loving and caring. I knew him for 14 years and he was always good to me. He was good to his children and to his parents. He provided for us and for his parents…I don’t know how I’m going to make it. I never worked…he never allowed me to. We had so much plans. He was building a new house in the front yard for us. He was so loving,” she added.
Christopher Ramnarine, who was one of the passengers on the boat that was headed to Parika, was also found floating in the river, dead. He was 21 and lived with his aunt and cousins. His mother, who went to the wharf to identify his body, was grief-stricken and inconsolable as it was lifted out of a boat. Geeta Somaria told Stabroek News that her son had left home to work in the interior but had to return home after he became extremely sick with dengue and typhoid fever. “He seh, ‘Mommy don’t worry, I will take care of you….’ Son, me ain’t wan you take care of me. If I de only know that my son woulda get in an accident I woulda mind he,” she said.
She added that late on Tuesday night she had gotten the news from her sister-in-law’s brother, who worked at the Parika Stelling, that her son had died. “Something in my spirit tell me to pray for my son and I shun that spirit. I ain’t pray fa he… look what happen to my child now. Jesus give me strength. My heart hurting me that I make my child… just like how I feel when I push him out I feel like that now. It pain… it pain.”
She said that earlier last year her sixteen-year-old daughter had ingested poison and she was shocked that now she was left without her son. “Two in less than a year. Oh how I gon bear it? When they tell me I feel like a vehicle coulda come and knock me down and I fall down,” Somaria cried.
Meanwhile, relatives of the still missing Moses gathered at the Bartica Hospital anxiously awaiting further word on him and whether he may have survived the accident.
His mother, Doreen Moses, said that she received information that two bodies were discovered and she and other family members rushed to the hospital to see whether it was him.
Some minutes later, it was confirmed that Moses was not found.
Seeram was the father of six children, ages 12 to 28.
The man’s wife, Shelly Lyseka, said that she and other members of the family had been at Bartica all day yesterday hoping to hear word about the recovery efforts. She said however, that after having gone all day with no news several of them left to go back home. She said that shortly after she left, she was called by Rico, one of her relatives, who told her that Seeram’s body had been found.
Lyseka said that her husband was a welder and a fabricator. She also said that the man operated a Brazilian dredge in the Puruni area. She said that on the morning of the accident she received a call from Seeram who told her that he would be coming home that day.
This was good news to her since he had been working in Puruni since December 14th of last year.
When Stabroek News visited the man’s residence last evening, his wife and children were swarmed by family and friends who turned out to give their support.
Lyseka said that she hoped a post-mortem could be done as soon as possible, so the family could go about the funeral arrangements.
According to the man’s relatives Seeram had been involved in two accidents prior to this one. On the first occasion, the boat he was travelling in capsized and trapped him inside
Two survivors who had been hospitalised following the collision have been discharged from hospital. One of them was Aubrey Bowen, who told Stabroek News yesterday that the last thing he saw before he fell unconscious was the boat that was headed toward Puruni slamming into the front of the boat he was travelling in.
Bowen, of Parika Façade, had joined a boat that was headed out of Puruni around 9am on Tuesday. He recalled that the boat had made several stops to pick up passengers who were headed to Parika before the collision.
Recounting the collision that occurred hours later, Bowen said that he had bent down to check something in his bag and when he looked up he saw another boat headed straight towards them. “I heard someone yell and scream to look out and then it hit we,” Bowen recounted. He said that when he regained consciousness he was floating in the Mazaruni River, miles away from help.
“When I looked over at my side, I saw a woman who was on the boat with me holding on to a fuel drum. Her head was bleeding and the front of her head… her forehead was dig away. It was a big cut and she was bleeding all over,” he said. He recalled that at that moment when he attempted to move his left side was numb and it was burning. “I couldn’t move my hand. I knew how to swim but I couldn’t. The pain was too much. My head was bleeding and my left leg was in so much pain,” he added.
Bowen said that he and the woman were rescued by a passing boat and were quickly transported to the Bartica Hospital for treatment. He said that he knew most of the persons who were on the boat with him but couldn’t say what had happened to them. “When the boat hit us, I went unconscious.” He said that he was still under treatment and had to return to the hospital for further tests and treatment.
Meanwhile, a source told this newspaper yesterday that one of the boats involved in the collision—the larger vessel—transported fuel and other commodities to an interior location within the Mazaruni District.
The source further stated that the turn from Crab Falls has a sudden drop, which boat captains find difficult to navigate and it is a hazard to many passengers travelling on such boats.
The source also revealed that this was not the first time that an accident occurred in the area and noted that only experienced boatmen travel the route.
The survivors that have spoken with this newspaper have all said that the collision occurred in the blink of an eye. They also said that only some persons were wearing life jackets, which were apparently not durable as some who wearing them were still sinking.
Survivor, Rudolph Sam, 38, who was heading up to Puruni, had said that the boat he was on was fitted with two 200 horsepower engines, which the boat’s captain revved sharply after the impact. This caused them to hit the bank of the nearby island, and sent the boat’s passengers flying over the sides of the vessel onto the riverbank.
It was farmers they had earlier passed who soon came and provided assistance but because of the size of their vessel many persons could not be rescued at the same time. By the time they returned to rescue more, some had disappeared below the water surface.
By Jeanna Pearson, Javone Vickerie