Donald James, the 17-year-old boy who was pumping fuel from a trawler that exploded and set fire to several boats and buildings at the Turn Basin water front in Port Kaituma last week, said he had asked his employer to ensure fire extinguishers were on the boat but no one heeded his request.
“I asked the boss man to send fire extinguishers for the boat and he never send… The boat didn’t even have a bucket of sand,” James told Stabroek News via a telephone interview.
James recounted that on the day of the explosion, he had “started” the engine around 7 am and turned away to pump fuel from the trawler.
“I was backing the boat… facing the road and filling the tank and something in my mind said to turn around and when I turned the diesel was spraying in the air because the cork was broken… then it ketch the exhaust and ketch a fire,” he recalled.
He said he rushed to the boat to turn off the engine but he was too late. “The boat exploded and it knock me to the ground and then I jump overboard to save my life because there was nothing I could do… my foot was paining,” James added. He said he swam to the shore and watched as the fire engulfed other boats.
The fire destroyed three small fuel boats and six buildings, injuring James and another resident. He was rushed to the Port Kaituma Hospital, from where he was later transferred to the Hosororo Hospital in Region One, where he remains. “I’m feeling much better… it’s only my foot that is paining a lot. I can’t walk on it and when I leave it hanging it would start bleeding,” he stated.
A resident had told Stabroek News that the explosion occurred at around 7.30 am aboard the trawler that was moored at the wharf.
It was quickly engulfed in flames and the fire spread to at least three smaller fuel boats, which were moored alongside it. According to the resident, the fire then spread to several nearby buildings located on the waterfront.
Residents have since questioned regulations in place for pumping fuel and have called for the complete halt to the pumping of fuel or an alternative system to be put in place at the Turn Basin.
According to resident and former regional parliamentarian Richard Allen, there are approximately 200 families living at Turn Basin and all of them are affected by the high levels of oil pollution in the river, which is the source of the water which they use for household chores and personal hygiene.
Allen said that in March of last year, some 529 people, many of whom lived in the Turn Basin area, were infected with gastroenteritis. He felt that the infection could have been a result of the pollution of the river water. Garbage is dumped in the river mainly by persons working on the oil boats, and the water is also contaminated by oil spills, he noted. He said that at present fuel boats use gas pumps to pump fuel and he recommended the use of electrical/vacuum pumps as an alternative. Electrical and vacuum pumps are the safest for the purposes of pumping fuel, he explained, and would reduce pollution as well as the likelihood of fires.
The Turn Basin fire left millions of dollars in damage.