The Gem Star tragedy
THIS WEEK was a sad one in the life of many Vincentians with the talk shows on Wednesday taken up with calls about the fire on board the MV Gem Star. To many It was as if some family member had departed. Not only did that ship serve residents of the Southern Grenadines, but did valuable service elsewhere. Someone even reflected on its role in getting supplies to Dominica after it was devastated by that terrible hurricane Maria. It was, as one described it, a Grenadines workhorse. At about 2:30 p.m. on Monday, there appeared to be little activity around the ship at the Grenadines Wharf where the boat had earlier in the morning been struck by fire. There was some smoke and fire trucks around, but the impression I got was that things were under control. So, my surprise on Tuesday morning when I was informed that the fire was still raging! What was really sad is that as I passed from Cane Garden into Kingstown, I saw people standing helplessly around as if nothing could be done. Later there was the tugging of the boat from the Reclamation area to Bottom Town and a warning from the Port Authorities that people should take precaution about the fumes. Then the boat continued moving away from Kingstown with people looking from all the areas where it could have been seen.
It was really a sad spectacle, particularly the sense of helplessness. Then by Wednesday persons calling to radio, informed or not, began to give their assessment of what had happened. Two views especially struck me; one that everything was OK, because the boat was insured. Come on!
It should never come to that. Insurance never gives back the full cost of one’s property, but the boat would have meant much more than that. It would have been like family, like losing something that was very special to you. Some persons were alarmed that something like that could possibly happen to one of the cruise liners when it was in port. Again, it is true that we would not want to have such an incident with a cruise liner because of its possible negative impact on the tourist industry. But our first concern must be for Vincentians affected by such a tragedy. It is a family’s investment and the owner, Gussie, would have been in this kind of business for a long time.
Moreover, we are always talking about having Vincentians investing in their country, so it is a heart-rending affair when such disasters happen.
My hope is that there will be some investigation to find out where things went wrong and what needs to be put in place.
Are there deficiencies in the training of our firefighters, especially for a fire that is not the usual one they are called upon to handle? Do we have the appropriate equipment?
Are there other things that need to be put in place?
This to me is necessary, because what struck me most about this incident is the sense of helplessness, with people simply looking on, waiting to see the end.
This is serious business and we need to identify any deficiencies that exist, even in terms of firefighting equipment on board the boat.
A comment by someone on Facebook struck me and reflected my feelings.
“We all painfully watched it burnt. Sucks being helpless!” As I looked at the photographs of the boat moving away from Kingstown, it was as if it was preparing for cremation and burial at sea. A sad affair indeed and my sympathies to the DeRoches!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian