Nevisians, Survivors Remember Christena Disaster Pauline Ngunjiri As Nevis Premier Hon. Vance Amory joined Nevisians on Saturday ( Aug 1 ) to remember the Christena disaster victims, he called on ferry owners, captains, crews, the Maritime Department, as well as passengers, to continually honor safety regulations introduced after the tragedy. The MV Christena was a government owned and operated ferry which had sailed the 12 mile route between St. Kitts and Nevis for 11 years before it sank en route to Nevis with 321 passengers on 1 st August, 1970. Only 91 persons survived. The annual memorial ceremony was held on the grounds of the Museum of Nevis History in Charlestown to mark the 45 th anniversary of the MV Christena disaster. Also present was the Governor General’s Deputy Hon. Eustace John, members of the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) Cabinet, dignitaries from St. Kitts, senior civil servants, family members of the victims, survivors and members of the public. The Premier recalled the ferry’s sinking as ‘the most tragic disaster in Nevis”. “We are joined together in mind and spirit to mourn those lives which were lost 45 years ago,” Hon Amory said and called on the loved ones to be optimistic that the grief and hurt felt would gradually subside. He called on survivors and loved ones to hold on to their Christian faith. Premier Amory said he was supposed to have accompanied some visitors from Canada to St. Kitts that day, but instead some teachers escorted them. “They were travelling back on 1 st August, 1970. I took them to the pier…..God knows.” The Premier highlighted the lessons learned from the tragedy, including the introduction of a code of safety. “Ferries must have an accurate record and count of passengers and crew travelling on their vessels. Inspections of maritime vessels is done to ensure they have adequate life jackets on board to satisfy the number of passengers they take to and from just in case. “The number of passengers a vessel can take is clearly marked on the vessel and is never exceeded. Each vessel must be operated by a competent and certified operator and crew. The Nevis Island Administration gives full support to the Maritime Department in enforcing these safety regulations,” the Premier stated. The Observer spoke to some survivors and persons who lost their mothers. A US based Nevisian, Dr. Roger Browne, was only 15 when the boat sank. He had travelled to St. Kitts to have some stitches removed from his eyes. “I was on board with my dad. I had a premonition because of the number of passengers that boarded. I positioned myself in a strategic position where I would easily get off which I did. I got off the boat but the noise of the engine was still on and I thought I was in the water but the boat was still sailing. In less than a minute, that boat went down with everyone on it. And slowly and surely, some made it to the shore.” He continued, “My dad was one of them who got off and proceeded to swim. We were picked up. We were the first to reach Pinneys Beach. We spread the news that the boat had sunk.” Dr. Browne says since then, he is vigilant whenever he travels and makes sure he is aware as to where exists are positioned in boats and airplanes. His father, Franklyn Browne recalled that he was trapped inside the boat. “I became unconscious. In that state, I had a premonition. My little daughter, Veta, came by in my unconsciousness as it were, she became my guardian angel and told me, ‘get out of that boat’. I climbed out through an opening and began to swim. A fishing boat coming home from St. Kitts picked us up…myself, my son, Oswald Tyson, Mrs. Williams’ daughter, Diana and a fellow known as Llewelyn Martin.” Browne vividly recalled that two consultants who were supposed to make a survey to determine the size of Nevis were in the boat and they did not survive. “As far as I know, the survey has never been done,” he said. Thelma Parris Mills was only 10 when she lost her mother. She learnt that her mother, Hannah, had died in the Christena tragedy from the lady who took care of her and her older siblings. “I do not think anybody can know what it was like to lose a mother. We were raised by a very nice lady but it was never the same not to have a mother around.” She says it is a privilege for children to be raised by a biological mother and added that she has made it a practice to hug her children daily and assure them of her love. “I am always there for my children. Every day I hug them and tell them mummy loves you,” she said. Blondell Hill, 57, was only eight years old when her mother died in the Christena disaster. She told the Observer that the annual memorial service helps to pay tribute to her mother year after year. She said her mother left their home that day to shop in St. Kitts because there was a wedding scheduled to take place in Nevis and several persons had travelled to buy clothes to wear and other items. Blondell, her siblings and neighbour’s children were looking forward to attending the wedding when they learnt of the disaster. She does not have vivid memories of what took place but remembers that nurses who were off duty were recalled to work. In her family’s house, they were busy cooking Johnnie cakes and beef when word went round that Christena had sunk. Hill said several people came to their residence to mourn with them. She said her father was overseas and on hearing of the disaster, he flew into Nevis the next day. Hill noted that her mother may have avoided the incident. One of her sisters had suggested that she go to collect her glasses on Friday but her mother preferred to go on a Saturday . Hill says an older sister raised her after her mother died, with the help of her Godmother. Older siblings helped raise the younger siblings. She recalls government officials bringing to homes assorted foodstuff such as flour, sardines and other non-perishables. “I always remember August 1 , 1970. When I think about it I feel as if I want to cry,” she said.
- 3 years ago
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