Over 50 passengers rescued at sea
PORT-OF-SPAIN – Coast Guard officers and crew from two other vessels responded last night to a mayday call from a water taxi transporting 63 passengers and customer service representatives to Tobago after the vessel stalled off the coast of Blanchisseuse shortly after 6 pm.
Photos of panicked passengers, wearing life jackets, and a video of a crew member calling for calm, soon began circulating on social media.
The passengers were onboard the Trini Flash which left Scarborough on its journey to Port-of-Spain yesterday.
The Port’s use of the water taxis on the seabridge commenced yesterday and the Trini Flash was on its second journey for the day when there was a report of a fire on board. Nidco in a statement last night said that there was a fire in the ceiling of the engine room which was contained. The vessel is usually used to transport passengers from San Fernando to Port-of-Spain on the calm Gulf of Paria waters.
The water taxis were put into use to supplement travel for passengers during the Easter period after the two ferry passengers vessels, the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit remain down for repairs.
The vessel made a voyage to Tobago without any problems, however, on its return to Port-of-Spain, thick black smoke was seen coming from the exhaust system before the vessel stalled just off the North Coast.
A distress call was sent out to the T&T Coast Guard shortly after 6 pm, who responded along with the Cabo Star and another unknown vessel. The passengers and customer service representatives were eventually transferred to the Cabo Star.
Shortly after 8 pm, Works and Transport Minister, Rohan Sinanan confirmed to the T&T Guardian that the vessel sailed to Staubles Bay Chaguaramas.
Asked if there was a fire aboard the vessel or whether it was taking in water as reported, Sinanan said: “I was told that the taking in water was not true but not until the vessel is brought back here and an assessment is done then I would have further details. I cannot confirm the fire for now.”
In a video on social media a passenger was heard saying: “We putting on lifejacket on the water taxi. It shut down at sea.”
Another video showed passengers being assisted onto the Cabo Star.
“This is what we have to put up with on a daily basis…the boat leave late, late . . . look at drama these people going through. The torment, the fright out in this big ocean,” one passenger said.
A passenger, who spoke with CNC3 under the condition of anonymity, said that an hour into the sailing, passengers began observing smoke coming from the water-taxi and the vessel came to a stop.
The passenger said an announcement was made and asked all passengers to remain seated.
Passengers were assured they would be kept informed of all developments.
However, the passenger said that after 30 minutes at sea, no help had arrived.
CNC3 spoke with Marketing and Public Relations Manager at the T&T Inter-Island Transportation Company Vilma Lewis-Cockburn who confirmed the water-taxi vessel was experiencing some issues and suggested that Nidco be contacted for more details.
Chairman of the Port Authority Lyle Alexander, during an interview with CNC3 news, last night said that the PATT is faced with challenges, however, he assured that they are doing everything to “fix them.”
“The Port Authority definitely has its challenges. We have to work our way through them. We have to understand what exactly they are and do everything that we can to fix them. To put right these problems that we have identified.”
Only this week, the Port Authority announced that the water taxi would accommodate inter-island passenger over the Easter period until Tuesday.
Trini Flash, which was used to operate the San Fernando to Port-of-Spain service, was chosen to service the inter-island service because both the T&T Express and the T&T Spirit are currently on dry-dock for repairs and maintenance.
On February 11, 2017, the T&T Guardian reported that the Trini Flash was faulty and had to be replaced. It was disclosed that the vessel was back then experiencing prolonged sailing times.
There had been numerous complaints from passengers travelling aboard the Trini Flash, which was at the time said to be operating with several mechanical problems.
As a result, the time spent travelling between San Fernando and Port-of-Spain had increased from 45 minutes to 90 minutes.
Tobago Forwards leader Christlyn Moore, commenting on the situation, said in a social media post that she predicted that “these vessels would put lives in peril.”
“The unfolding situation where the water taxi has shut down mid-ocean and is taking in water with souls on board is too frightening to contemplate. I’m praying that everyone is physically all right and will have more to say after being assured everyone is safe,” she stated. (Trinidad Guardian)