(Jamaica Observer) THE captain of the boat that capsized off Maiden Cay yesterday said he tried to guide the passengers to a nearby islet; however, the group of mostly women panicked, resulting in two of them dying.
“Mi put on jacket pon every one a dem and a go Maiden Cay, but yuh see when mi a go now, mi can see Lime Cay — although mi deh a good distance — and water start come inna the boat. Mi have arthritis inna mi hand, suh mi couldn’t bail out the water. So mi seh to some of the girl dem ‘See if unnu can bail out the water fi mi’, but because she never really know what to do mi seh, ‘Alright mek mi cut down [the engine] and see what mi can do.’ By the time mi do that the water just come a the stern more and go in. By the time mi see it now and seh alright mi a go try juice up, the boat just start go down stern way first,” a distraught Herbert Dowie told the Jamaica Observer last night after he was granted station bail in the sum of $50,000.
Dowie said the 12 passengers became frantic, with some screaming at the top of their lungs, while others started swimming.
“Mi tell dem seh wi cyaan go Lime Cay because the breeze going to be in dem face with the water and dem won’t be able to manage it, so it better wi try head to Rackham Cay. So, three a wi reach Rackham Cay, the brother and one girl weh look like him girlfriend. When we a go, she a panic whole heap and him a seh to her seh ‘just relax and don’t bother panic ’cause wi reach now’.
“When wi reach, him a tell her seh ‘put down your foot’. She never put down her foot and him keep on a tell her put it down until the sea come and box her in. It box her again. The brother put her on the sand and we did a try some CPR pon her, but it look like the water full up her mouth and her nose and everything,” Dowie explained.
He said the others were approaching the islet when he saw his colleague’s boat making its way towards them. Several passengers boarded the boat while others remained until the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard rescued them.
“One weh did with them look like seh the water go in her mouth and drown her or something. Bwoy, to how mi feel ’bout the whole thing, mi can’t even explain. Mi stressed. This never reach mi yet, and all mi can think ’bout a seh the people dem dead,” Dowie lamented.
“The police dem tell mi seh dem a go charge mi ’cause the boat never license. It up from April and mi couldn’t renew it. It deh pon mi head. Everything deh pon mi head. Mi do this all the while, suh mi nuh know. Mi can carry up to 15, but a mi hand. Mi couldn’t bail the water and everything sink and the people dem end up dead. I don’t know,” he said.
The deceased have been identified as Edith Betsha of Mandeville, Manchester, and Jannelle Dacessers of a Kingston address.
The group reportedly left Port Royal sometime after eight o’clock in the morning, but reportedly got into difficulties shortly after nine o’clock when strong winds and choppy waters rattled the vessel.
One man, who identified himself as “Poppy” and said that he has been transporting people to Maiden and Lime cays for several years, told the Observer that he gave instructions while the vessel was being packed, noting that passengers were asked to sit according to size and weight.
“A panic dem panic. When mi a ride out deh sometime the people dem start get shaky and just a jump from one side to the next side. A more than 30 people mi carry inna mine inna heavier wind than this and nothing nuh happen. So I don’t know how this happen. The passenger dem get frighten ’cause guess wah? You see when wi inna boat, sometimes wi haffi cut down one angle and tell the people dem seh, ‘Watch ya, you see when you see di boat a lean, do not go with it, you understand? Is just so boat ride pon sea. Is not river wi inna’,” the man said.
Lieutenant Commander at the Coast Guard Aceion Prescott told the Observer that four people were observed attempting to swim in the direction of land when they were spotted by someone in a passing vessel.
“Somewhere around nine o’clock, it (canoe) developed some difficulties. There were 13 persons onboard, including the cox of the vessel. Right now we’re having some very bad conditions at sea, so while the vessel was going out it encountered some difficulties and sank,” Commander Prescott said.
He added that the occupants were wearing life vests and were able to stay afloat in the water for approximately two hours before help came.
“Eventually somebody was passing and saw them and took four of them over to our base and alerted us of the situation. So we went out there; we ascertained that there were two persons who were unconscious and getting CPR from one of the vessels passing. We took them in our custody, continued the CPR before putting them in our ambulance to the hospital, KPH (Kingston Public Hospital), where they were pronounced dead,” Prescott said, theorising that inexperience and lack of strong swimming skills might have contributed to the deaths.
The other passengers, he mentioned, were treated by the JDF’s medical staff, before leaving with family members.
“The matter is now being investigated by the marine police. They have the jurisdiction for investigations,” he said.
In the meantime, Dowie was released from police custody shortly after 7:30 pm following questioning. He is scheduled to appear in court on January 23.
The Observer was told by one of his family members, who asked not to be identified, that he was transporting people for more than 30 years, incident-free.
The people he was transporting are said to be his “regular clients”.
“Is years him a run this boat; a nuh now. Is from him a young boy him a do this and nothing never happen yet. Him a do this from him a 17 [years old], and now him a 50-odd. But the lives that are lost a my biggest concern,” the family member said.
“From what I am hearing them get frighten and start panic. Them jump from one side to the next and that’s how the boat turn over. Now, if you on a boat and it lean you cannot lean with it. You haffi stay weh you deh or that will happen. Him know how fi pack the boat according to size. So when them move and shift them weight it must turn over,” added the family member.
The Observer was not able to locate the victims’ family members who hospital staff said were inconsolable when the two women were pronounced dead.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s commanding officer in charge of Port Royal Neville Francis said that investigations continue into the incident.