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Yachtsman missing

Yachtsman missing

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Christina Baptiste, a resident of Gomea, says that she believes that her husband Vibert Baptiste is still alive and his whereabouts will eventually be revealed.{{more}}

The 54-year-old man, an employee of Barefoot Yacht Charters, has been missing at sea since February 26, 2011. He went missing while transporting one of the company’s vessels from Union Island back to mainland St Vincent.

But while the distraught wife says that she is still clinging to the possibility of receiving some positive news, she said that she is unhappy with the manner in which the company with which her husband works handled the situation.

Speaking to SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, March 9, Baptiste said that in her opinion, the company took too long to report to the relevant authorities that her husband had gone missing.

She further contended that the search and rescue efforts got underway too late.

Christina said that the drama began when her husband went to transport the vessel which had been docked in Union Island.

He flew down to the Grenadine Island, saying that he would be back by 3 the said afternoon.

Christina said that she tried contacting her husband on his mobile phone at 3:00 p.m., but got a busy signal. She dismissed this thinking that he had already arrived and was in a meeting with his supervisor.

Some three hours passed, and at 6:00 pm she said that she tried again.

“I call and like it (the phone) was off,” Christina explained, adding that she again did not think anything of this.

A call one hour later to her husband’s phone had the same result.

And although she said that she figured that by this time he should have arrived on the mainland, she again thought nothing of it, instead saying that she thought that he had probably got delayed and had docked on one of the other Grenadine Islands.

Sometime after 11 that night, still not having heard from her husband, Christina said that she then became worried.

“I said nah – Vibert wouldn’t be out this late,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.

All subsequent attempts to communicate with her husband on the following day (Sunday, February, 27) proved futile, Christina said.

“I said I don’t like this situation at all. He was supposed to call me,” she said, adding that her husband usually kept in touch and informed her of his whereabouts.

“I got worried, ah couldn’t eat; ah said something wrong.”

Calls to the husband’s place of employment also turned up nothing, with Christina saying that although Barefoot Charters is open on Sundays, no one responded.

A call on Monday informed Christina that the vessel was recovered some time after 5:00 p.m. the day before (Sunday), off the coast of Layou, but that her husband was not on it.

Inquiries of any missing persons report to the Calliaqua Police came up negative.

She said that she then proceeded to make a report, before going to the Coast Guard on the advice of the Police.

According to Christina, officers at the Coast Guard confirmed that they had been notified, but did not indicate whether they had started search and rescue efforts.

The woman also told SEARCHLIGHT that she only received official notice of what had taken place from Barefoot Yacht Charters after she returned from the Police, after she had tried calling earlier that day (February 28).

Christina said that subsequent visits to the company in the presence of her lawyer revealed other bits of information, including that the boat left Union Island at 1:30pm on the 26th and that it was recovered the following day shortly after 5pm by a French national, with the engine running and that all Vibert’s belongings including his two cellular phones were discovered on the boat.

But she again expressed the view that she found it strange that the company made no effort to report the vessel or her husband missing from the initial stages, saying that it did not look right.

However, when contacted, Ton Hoogstraten, General Manager of Barefoot Yacht Charters, told SEARCHLIGHT that despite the claim made by Christina, the Coast Guard had in fact been contacted once word had come in of the vessel’s discovery.

“The first thing we did was we contacted the Coast Guard, who did not want to be involved. We then contacted the Police, who turned us back to the Coast Guard,” Hoogstraten explained.

He further explained that it was the Coast Guard out of Puerto Rico which started the search and then the officials from Trinidad and Tobago joined in.

The GM also contended that the day after the vessel was discovered, they had an aircraft and three other vessels searching for the missing man.

Hoogstraten also responded to Baptiste’s claim that the search had been called off too soon, saying that that was not his decision.

“That was the decision by search and rescue in Trinidad and Tobago,” he explained.

“We did the best we could and were on the phone with Christina everyday updating her with what was going on.”

Commander Brenton Caine of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Coast Guard, however, refuted Hoogstraten’s comment about the Coast Guard not wanting to be involved, saying that it was a French national who had called in about the incident.

“Sunday night, the first call came in from a Frenchman,” Caine told SEARCHLIGHT.

“Our organization is a respectable organization. We have the responsibility for the sea,” he continued.

He further explained that the Coast Guard was the search and rescue agency in the country and that they have every obligation to get involved.

Meanwhile, a former co-worker of Baptiste’s who spoke to SEARCHLIGHT on the basis of anonymity said that the decision by management to send out rescue teams was only made after other employees pressured them to do so.

He noted that it was the chief mechanic who had taken the initiative to send out a boat with four persons to look for the missing man, and later on, during the day of February 28, as word got to other employees, other teams joined in on the effort.

This confirmed Hoogstraten’s point of having three vessels joining in on the search.

But the former employee further contended that searches only took place on Monday and that there were no further searches conducted.

According to the missing man’s wife, the search was officially called off last Sunday, March 6, when Hoogstraten brought over the items that had been recovered from the vessel. (DD)