Teenage

VIDEO: False alarm

St Thomas fishermen surprised, amused at news they were lost at sea

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, August 23, 2019

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A wave of agony rolled through Camille Gray when news reached her that her beloved father, Vernon, had perished at sea with colleagues who had left for Morant Cays just off the coast of St Thomas on Monday.

She was not alone.

Clydie Gibson had to rush her grandmother — whose blood pressure skyrocketed when similar news of her brother reached — to Princess Margaret Hospital in the parish.

Vessel owner P McKenzie held his breath, not for the $12 million spent to purchase the boat news reports said had buckled under weather pressure — pieces of which were reportedly swept ashore — but for the lives aboard.

From shortly after 8:00 am yesterday, a crowd had built up at Port Morant Harbour, where relatives of the 16 men who left in two vessels waited with bated breath.

As chatter grew, a man from the crowd boldly declared that the men could not be dead. He argued that the weather was good and besides, the men were experienced fishers.

“A fake news! That's why mi nuh watch television. The man dem nuh missing and nuh boat nuh sink,” he said, while encouraging those around him to “hold di faith”.

By 9:00 am a group of men boarded a vessel and left in search of the men, who, elsewhere in the media, were said to be missing.

No one had been in communication with the group, but according to schedule, their return was still on track.

The men were scheduled to return to Port Morant Harbour at noon yesterday.

But reports that they were dead overshadowed that detail.

At minutes to 10:00 am, three vessels the crowd recognised were observed heading towards the harbour.

The group let out a collective sigh of relief, many not able to contain their excitement.

McKenzie, in a subsequent interview with the Jamaica Observer, chided the media for putting out what he termed false news.

“It's been yesterday since this false news was going around. Dem seh my boat sink a sea with some of the divers and another boat with it. Hearing the news at the time I didn't believe it... I said it's false news because my boat can't sink that easy with the love and the prayer that it get. The Creator naah mek that happen,” he said.

“Along the day, all day yesterday I keep hearing from media the false news and then we start get different news. It had people worried so much since yesterday. People didn't eat; people didn't sleep. People think so many different things. I just want to say one thing to Jamaica: please, cut out all these false news because so many people could commit suicide because of this false news,” said McKenzie, who was brought to tears after sharing the ordeal.

He said media reports “traumatised” the relatives of the fishermen, including young children.

“We nuh want unuh mess up dem mind and mess up dem brain and dem mental space. Don't spread nuh false news! Too many things could have happened,” McKenzie stressed.

At the same time, he commended the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard which, he said, communicated to him that men were prepared to conduct a search-and-rescue mission.

Gibson, who also spoke with the Observer, said she became unsettled when she received a phone call Wednesday night informing her that coast guard personnel had found one of the vessels empty.

“Dem seh di boat belong to St Thomas man dem who leave from Port Morant. Same time mi go down di road go check one fisherman friend who mi know, and mi a ask him if him hear di story. Him seh 'yes', somebody call him. Mi jump pon a bike go Hampton Court where the person who own di boat live. Mi end up down here last night fi hear wah gwaan. One woman phone ring and dem seh dem find three dead bodies. Mi call mi mother and tell her, and a pure bawling. Mi grandmother end up down a hospital. Doctor seh her pressure high-high since last night (Wednesday),” Gibson related.

She said early yesterday she received a second phone call with news that the death toll had increased to five, her brother among them.

“So mi breeze come down here this morning because mi cyah believe. So mi deh-yah now a wait, then one boat leave here fi go see wah happen to dem. So mi deh-yah deh-yah till mi see boat a come in with them. Mi feel good. Mi feel well good,” the woman said.

Meanwhile Gray, whose father captained one of the vessels, said the ordeal was stressful.

“Mi think mi turn orphan yah now. I said to myself mi father gone too... I know everybody on the boat. When I heard the news it was so shocking to me. When my brother called and told me, I was so frightened because I wasn't expecting to hear that. He told me that if I heard that a boat sink at sea. I said I didn't hear anything. When I made some phone calls, people told me that it was true. It was very stressing. I lose my mother; to lose my father [too]? And we're so close? It would be hard,” Gray said, distress still evident on her face.

Her father said he was surprised to know that reports had suggested that the group was missing.

“I was surprised. We were not missing. I don't understand who come up with that news. If weather bad we not going out. We have experience and all a wi can swim,” the elder Gray said.

Gilbert Edwards, the young man who captained the other vessel, told the Observer that he was amused when he learnt that he was supposedly dead.

“The weather was good so there couldn't be any difficulty. When wi come back right now it's so surprising to hear this. Yeah, a laugh mi a laugh! Wi leave to get some fish. A regular thing fi wi, so mi did surprise,” he said.


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