By Judy H. Fitzpatrick and Darlene Hodge
PHILIPSBURG--Boats were not spared the wrath of Hurricane Gonzalo which barrelled through St. Maarten on Monday evening, sinking or completely destroying 37 boats.
The hurricane claimed the life of an elderly sailor, who was on one of the destroyed boats near Boca Marina in Simpson Bay (see related story).
The number of boats destroyed excludes damaged dinghies and vessels that suffered minor damages. A total of 22 of the completely destroyed or sunk boats were in the Simpson Bay Lagoon; nine in Oyster Pond; three at Bobby's Marina and three in Great Bay, Acting Head of the Coast Guard and Head of Operation Wendell Thode told The Daily Herald on Tuesday.
The pier at the Coast Guard office suffered some damage when a wrecked boat slammed into it during the midst of the storm. One of the Coast Guard vessels that had been on a lift also suffered minor damages.
Nature Foundation Manager Tadzio Bervoets said several boats sank after breaking from moorings and anchors. "Many mariners were caught off-guard and did not get to prepare as they normally should," Bervoets told this newspaper.
A number of salvage companies were busy Tuesday looking through the wreckage on the water. The foundation is assisting in the shoreline clean-up of gasoline and diesel spills caused by damaged boats using absorbent pads and boons. The main concerns are gasoline, as diesel evaporates relatively quickly.
Once the seas calm down, the foundation will check all marine park installations, as well as the mangroves in Mullet Pond for damage, Bervoets said adding that the lagoon still houses wrecks from previous hurricanes.
St. Maarten Marine Trades Association (SMMTA) President Brian Deher said there was "significant damage and loss in the marine industry." The damaged boats included one yacht in port at Isle de Sol. Three boats nearby sank and another was seriously damaged. There was no structural damage at Simpson Bay Marina, but one charter boat sank. No boats were damaged at Dock Maarten in Pointe Blanche, as all boats present were in lifts. The breakwater for the new Dock Maarten expansion was relatively unscathed, only losing some top soil.
Manager at Aquamania Garth Steyn called the aftermath "unbelievable" devastation. He described six or seven damaged boats near the Red Cross, four or five more in the shipyard nearby. Aquamania experienced one damaged boat and lost wood on its dock, which he called "relatively good" given the circumstance. He added that some of the yachts recorded up to 99 knots of wind during the hurricane, the maximum measurement.
No one reported missing
Thode said "one or two" flares were shot from vessels in the Great Bay area during the peak of the storm; however, he could not say whether any persons from boats were missing.
Chief of Police Peter de Witte said no one was reported missing to authorities on Tuesday, while Curacao-based Dutch Caribbean Coastguard Public Relations Officer (PRO) Roderick Gouverneur said there were no official reports of missing persons at sea in Dutch St. Maarten. Up to late last night, one person was reported missing in French St. Martin and one in St. Barths (see related story).
"The Coast Guard responded to different calls that came in during the hurricane. From last night [Monday night – Ed.] around 10:00, we were working straight the entire night until this morning and we continue today [Tuesday – Ed] during the day time," Thode told The Daily Herald. "We responded to different emergency calls as soon as the wind died down a little bit. We put two boats in the water to respond to the calls that had come in.
"Most of the boats that are destroyed are completely under water, we cannot even see registration. Some of them can only see the mast out of the water. Nothing else," said Thode.
"We got some calls when the hurricane was blazing, but we could not go out during the storm. But, as soon as it was okay we went out. People have to realise that the Coast Guard and every other department that give service to the community are also human beings and when there is a storm and a hurricane warning they have to take precautions because they cannot expect that when the storm is blazing and get to 120 miles per hour that we can put down a boat in the water – that is impossible," said Thode.
"People have to know that they are personally responsible for their own safety and after we come into the picture to help them and reassure them that they are safe, but we are talking about Mother Nature and this is unpredictable. When we are dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude when it concerns Mother Nature we have to check and deal with safety."
Regarding the flares, Thode said one of the vessels that shot a flare had run aground and everyone on board were safe. "We expected a storm, but got blessed with a hurricane. It was still a catastrophe, no one expected it."
During the course of Tuesday, the Coast Guard had been busy assessing the damage, doing a count of the destroyed vessels and assisting persons who had issues with their boats in whatever way they could. "We checked on people whose boat sank; we tried to help them and give advice on how to salvage their boats; we helped people whose boats were taking in water to pump the water out and helped others to patch their damage. We also helped marinas to help get debris out of boats."
Thode said although many Coast Guard officers had suffered damage to their homes, personal belonging and had family members who were affected by the hurricane; they still went out to work in numbers to help others recover from the storm. He was very proud of the workers for this show of unselfishness. "We got people to work in a jiffy and they worked all night and went into the water as soon as the wind went down although communication was limited," he said.