SIMPSON BAY–Marine Management and Consulting (MMC) President Jeff Boyd has written a letter to the Council of Ministers and Members of Parliament urgently requesting that they intervene to get salvage operations underway to clear the marinas, and, in view of the unprecedented circumstances, asking whether exceptions can be made.
He conceded that the barge, crane and tugboat from the Bahamas unknowingly violated certain flag state rules and came to St. Maarten without the necessary documents in place.
“This error was not made intentionally, as the operator Executive Marine Management Ltd. (EMM) simply felt that if he had an internationally registered towing firm, bring the equipment in, which he did, that the equipment would be able to work here in the same manner as it does in coastal waters of the Bahamas,” Boyd wrote. “Obviously this was in error and incorrect. Thus, we find no fault with the Maritime Authorities’ interpretation of the laws concerning this matter.
“However, the equipment here is the only equipment available to us with the capacity (150-ton crane) to do much of the work required to get these yachts and damaged dock sections removed from the marinas. We cannot do a good deal of this work with smaller equipment, so this isn’t a matter of choice.
“As of writing this letter, we have another barge and crane ready to leave port from Venezuela and have provided maritime authorities here with all the relevant documentation to examine. Provided the documents are in order, they will head to St. Maarten tomorrow. Unfortunately, this will only allow for the salvaging of the smaller wrecks and will not allow us to remove the larger wrecks, as the crane on board is simply too small.
“ We are willing to do whatever is asked of us, including paying fines, new surveys, re-classification of the vessels (if possible) changing out the barge and tug with compliant ones, when we can find them and/or any other solution that would work.”
Boyd reminded that Simpson Bay Lagoon has now been subjected to more than six weeks of continued leaking fuel that could have been stopped after three weeks if yachts could have been removed from the water. Steps were taken by the marinas, including booms and other spill containment measures, but there are simply too many wrecks to handle in this manner, he emphasised.
“The marinas have the possibility and willingness to rebuild/repair, even if only partially, and thus capture part of the upcoming season. This allows for over 25 members of our staff alone at Yacht Club Port de Plaisance to keep their job. It’s as simple as this: No Docks, No Yachts, No Jobs.
“The ALL NEW requirements from VROMI have already caused 11 days of stand-down and now we need to fill out countless forms, buy stamps, gain permission from insurance companies, that will take months and months and have basically tied our hands behind our backs. This is done under the pretence of the Government’s need to protect itself from liability. What about the liability for allowing the Lagoon to be contaminated when the resources were here all along to stop it?”
Boyd commended the VROMI trucks, despite their missing body parts, for cleaning up the island to protect inhabitants and the environment.
“Exception to the rules of the road are made because it is an emergency situation and is in the best interest of St. Maarten and its people,” he observed. “We applaud their efforts. Yet our Lagoon is being degraded and destroyed more and more each day by leaking fuel from submerged yachts when we have the ability to stop it and yet we will not make the exception and do what’s right. Why are we not trying to clean up the mess in the Lagoon with the same vigour and commitment we have on land?
“We would let people lose their jobs when we don’t need to; in this specific case, all because the registration documents for what can easily be recognised as an emergency piece of equipment can’t be used.”
According to Boyd, one of the local marine construction and salvage companies just signed a contact in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to take his equipment there (crane, tugboat and barge) because the same equipment he has been using for years does not have the registration need to assist, now that we have a disaster to deal with.
“The BVI begged him to come and are willing to do whatever is needed to mitigate the damage to their people and environment. Why would we not do the same here? Why would we make it so hard to operate that our own salvage operators would leave?”
He disclosed that Bobby Velasquez had arranged for a barge and crane from St. Kitts to come over and help, but they were turned back because of improper documentation.
“To the best of our knowledge not one single salvage barge has been cleared for service and is currently operating. Once again, we understand there are rules we must all abide by as well as normal adherence to international laws, treaties and agreements. But these are not normal circumstances.
“Nearly every yacht that sank is equipped with batteries, coolant and other chemicals on board, in addition to diesel fuel which in some cases is in excess of 10,000 gallons which is currently leaking into the water. This should take precedence and constitute an emergency situation that requires immediate action even if this means allowing exceptions be made to the rules.
“When you consider the economic impact of having the marinas closed and the loss of jobs as a result thereof, when there is a possibility for this not to be the case, we would hope this too would constitute the need for immediate action.”
Boyd’s letter ended by offering three options:
“Option 1: Follow the rules as they are made up each day and find ourselves with no way to salvage the season, resulting in lost jobs and possibly an environmental disaster.”
“Option 2: We can beg our Government officials to understand that this is truly an emergency and requires emergency actions and exceptions.
“Option 3: We simply ignore all, do what is best for the environment and our people and await whatever punishment is bestowed upon us.”
In conclusion he said: “We hope that you will allow us to survive and assist us by answering Option 2 favourably and seeing to it that everyone, in all Ministries and Departments, are working with us towards the goal of cleaning up and restoring the marine industry of St. Maarten.
“We need every crane, barge and tug available, working around the clock lifting vessels. We need the assistance of the same trucks mentioned and, lastly, we need Government’s assistance helping to facilitate all quickly and efficiently, and, yes, at times making an exception to the rule.”