Hopes dim for finding survivors of boating tragedy

March 30, 2023 in Regional

Hopes of finding more survivors from Tuesday’s boating tragedy, dwindled on Wednesday as family members urged the authorities in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts-Nevis to immediately release the names of those who survived so as give them closure.

The Antigua and Barbuda government has said it would launch a “full investigation” into the circumstances that led to the sinking of the 30 foot vessel with several local and African nationals on board during the early hours of Tuesday.

The vessel sank about 40 miles northwest of Antigua and 12 nautical miles south of Conaree in St Kitts.

The Chief of Defence Staff of the Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF), Colonel Telbert Benjamin, said the “vessel went down in relatively deep water, and so recovery … might be a bit of a challenge”.

The ABDF had said earlier that at 15 people had been rescued and three bodies had also been recovered while the search continues for other survivors.

But relatives of those who have so far survived the ordeal, have been calling to local media outlets here urging the authorities in St. John’s and Basseterre to release the names of those who survived so as to put their mind at ease.

One Cameroonian national, who lives in Germany, told the Observer Radio in Antigua that his brother, Verdo, was among the 32 people onboard the French-registered vessel, Jenna B, which the government said had departed “illegally” from Urlings.

He said when he last communicated with his brother he was informed that he was leaving for the United States on Monday night. He told the radio station that he was quite aware of the travel and that the trip would be risky.

“My brother left Cameroon on his way to the USA. So he arrived in Antigua and he left yesterday on a boat which was suppose to take him to the USA and I don’t know what happen.

“I am very concerned…any information, I don’t know whether he is dead or alive. I will be grateful, me and my family to know if anyone knows anything…we will be grateful,” he said.

The brother is among hundreds of Cameroonian refugees fleeing a five-year war in the country’s eastern Anglophone region who have travelled to Antigua and Barbuda in recent months via charter flights which were briefly allowed from the Nigerian capital Lagos.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne said that it is “widely known” that his Antigua and Barbuda government has been making “every effort to be helpful to these brothers and sisters from Africa who were marooned on Antigua, including by granting them residence and the opportunity to work.

“We have also been engaged with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration on the best ways of treating them as refugees,” Browne said, noting that the incident had showed up to clear situations.

“The first is that the Africans on board the vessel wanted to leave Antigua and Barbuda for another country. The second is that the owners and operators of a vessel in Antigua and Barbuda facilitated their transport on an illegal journey,” he said, adding “my government will launch a full investigation into the circumstances of this unlawful and dreadful affair, including the involvement of any citizens and residents”.

But a Cameroon national, residing in St. John’s told local radio that the African nationals who had been stranded here since December had no choice but to seek to leave the island.

She said while her family is still here and was not part of the deadly voyage, the Africans here “do not even have money to buy anything so that they wanted to leave that place and go to other areas where they will have jobs.

“It’s just terrible, it’s just terrible. Most of them went to the airport and they did not allow them to pass through the airport,” she said, adding that it was better the authorities here had deported them back to Cameroon “rather than to die in the water”.

Last month, the main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) in Antigua and Barbuda called for a Commission of Inquiry to determine whether the authorities here are engaged in human trafficking after hundreds of African migrants travelled to the island late last year from West Africa.

Opposition Leader, Jamale L. Pringle said Tuesday’s incident underscored the need for the government to come “clean” on the matter.

“It is unfortunate that has happened. We want to sympathise with the families who would have lost loved ones. We have been…trying to get a grip on what transpired and try to understand it from a standpoint where who would have authorised this…

“What I heard is that three persons were supposed to have been on board (the vessel) and not 30. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the persons were from Africa, more so Cameroon”.

Meanwhile, the captain of a luxury liner that had assisted in rescuing some of the passengers, told Observer Radio that he did not expect any more people to survive.

Thomas Auckland told radio listeners that based on his experience coupled with the bad weather, the likelihood of finding any other survivors was extremely slim.

“Unfortunately, there will be no more survivors, the weather was extremely rough…they had no safety gear” he said, noting the length of time the rescue teams have been searching without success.

He said some of the passengers had slipped off the boat and were unable to swim”.