SKN marks 47th anniversary of Christena disaster

By Noella Swaby, Observer intern, with Kenan Dudley

On Aug. 1 outside of Hamilton House, a gathering of people grieved and remembered a fateful day that occurred many years ago. The peaceful morning had the visitors reminiscing of a not-so-peaceful event that happened Aug. 1, 1970 – a date so far in the past, yet a tragedy still so close to the hearts of those who lost loved ones.

The gathering commemorated the 47th anniversary of the fatal Christena ferry disaster, and the Honourable Premier Vance Amory gave remarks to those in attendance near the memorial erected in memory of lives lost.

“This was an event [that] changed the course of history, not just for Nevis, but for St. Kitts and Nevis as a country,” Amory said.

According to author Whitman T. Brown, who wrote later about the event, “the passenger capacity was 155, but that afternoon Christena had approximately 320 people on board. When the boat was half a mile off Nags Head (a promontory at the southern tip of the southeastern peninsula of St. Kitts), and entering the rougher seas that line up with the channel between the two islands, the ferry boat took on water and sank. Only 91 people survived….”

The incident sparked a massive amount of change in the ferry system and increased awareness of the importance of safety when traveling for all in the federation.

“Our memorial is not to continue to approach on blame, I think we have done enough of that,” Amory said. “It is not to complain but rather, show our respect and our regard to those who are lost and are to be remembered, and the contributions which they have made.”

Most people on the islands know of someone who has suffered because of the tragedy, and can recognize that day as one that would forever change the course of history in St. Kitts and Nevis. Since the crash, upgraded vessels have been introduced into the ferry system, as well as life-saving devices and improvements on knowledge of those in charge of passengers safety.

“The suitability of the vessels shows that each [that] supplies and moves people between Saint Kitts and Nevis is adequately equipped with life-saving devices and trained staff, who are capable of managing those boats as they travel,” Amory said. “One of the things [that] this event continues to teach us is lessons of resilience and not to make the same mistakes ever again.”

There was a belief from Amory that we should allow this past occurrence to enlighten our path in life, and he spoke on the specifics of the lessons that we are still learning from tragedies such as this one.

“Spend more time with our family and friends, cherish them so that if, God forbid, we were to lose them through any event, natural caused or accidents, man-made disasters, we would not regret that we did not take the time to be loving and to share,” Amory said.