Passengers hold on for lives as boat sinks in Essequibo

Seventeen passengers escaped unhurt after a speedboat sprang a leak in the deep waters of the Essequibo River on Sunday afternoon.

Boat captain Fidel Gibson is now in police custody as an investigation is ongoing, while Transport and Harbours Department will be examining the Yaffa C to determine what might caused the incident, which occurred at ‘Mother Bush,’ some six miles off the Parika Stelling.

This newspaper was informed that except for a girl who was next to the engine and sustained minor burns, all the passengers were unhurt. The child was taken to the West Demerara Regional Hospital for treatment.

The Yaffa C from which the 17 passengers were saved after it sprang a leak in the deep waters of the Essequibo River. (Photo by Roxanne Clarke)

Regional Vice Chairman of Region One Paul Pierre, who was travelling from Mabaruma to attend the National Toshaos Conference in Georgetown, was among the passengers on the boat. He told Stabroek News that he learned of the situation when Gibson suddenly stopped the engine and informed passengers that the boat was about to sink.

“Don’t panic, the boat is sinking” he recalled Gibson saying.

Pierre added that at that point, everyone panicked. “We were in the middle of nowhere. Just vast deep brown waters [all around]. All I could have thought about was ‘if I would ever make it out of here.’”  He said he held tightly to the vessel, which turned over, floating on top of the water. “The waves swept angrily over us. It was hard to even breathe. At one point I felt hopeless,” he said. “When I looked around me I could have seen the desperation of the passengers. It was really awful. But thank God I am alive.”

Pierre said they were in the water for almost 25 minutes. He was not optimistic that they would have survived had they not been rescued then. “If we were in that water for five minutes more, people would have died,” he said.

The hole in the boat which caused it to take in water and capsize in Essequibo River. (Photo by Roxanne Clarke)

He said Gibson made every effort to ensure passengers were safe and especially two young children, who were on board at the time of the mishap. “[He] put the two children at the top of the boat, but like any of the other passengers these children were screaming and crying,” Pierre said.

Gibson managed to report the mishap and boat operator Elton Wong was among those who responded to rescue the passengers.

According to the owner of the vessel, Shaber Gafoor, he was at home when he was informed of the incident. The man said he did not know what could have caused the mishap, stating that he serviced the boat only last Thursday. He was adamant that the boat was in good physical condition to transport passengers.

The bowman Leo Paul said all of the passengers were wearing life jackets. “We always make sure that… we announce to our passengers ‘please put on all life jackets,’” he said.

Meanwhile, when Stabroek News visited the Parika Stelling yesterday, boat operators were doing routine checks to make sure that their vessels were fit for travel on the river.

Authorities at the Supe-naam Speed Boat Service, meanwhile, said that they are putting all measures in place to ensure the safety of their passengers. They also encouraged passengers to wear lifejackets when using the vessels.

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