WITH THE CONTRACTOR scheduled to take possession of the site of the proposed new Kingstown container port on July 7, fishers at Rose Place are being urged to accept the compensation package that has been offered so that the area can be vacated and secured.
But some fishers based at the seaside community at the northwestern end of Kingstown say they are uncertain about their next move. They feel the relocation options given to them by the Government are inadequate, especially in comparison with the arrangements made for people who had been squatting on the beach, but have since resettled in new homes built for them at Lowmans Bay.
Speaking on NBC Radio on Wednesday, June 22 Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves said of the 35 persons who operate fishing vessels in Rose Place, 20 had so far signed the agreement, with more expected to sign before the end of this week.
He said the minimum compensation package that will be given to boat operators is about $18,000.
Gonsalves said originally, the plan was to relocate the fishers to the nearby community of Edinboro, but there were challenges with that approach, including resistance from residents there who said better alternatives could be found. “And when all the detailed analysis was done, a better alternative was found, that is, to compensate the fisherman, the operators down there and for them to go to different places.”
The coastal communities of Lowmans Bay, Questelles Bay, Clare Valley, Calliaqua, or Rucher Bay have been suggested as possible sites where the fisherfolk may resettle, but according to the prime minister, most of the fishers have decided to go to Lowmans Bay, which is not without its challenges.
He said the beach at Lowmans Bay has several uses including recreation, as a storage area for aggregate, and as a jetty for fuel received through the PetroCaribe programme, so the situation would have to be “properly structured”.
When SEARCHLIGHT visited Rose Place on Tuesday, June 21, more than a dozen fishing boats were pulled up on the beach, and several storage sheds were still standing. Sitting on one of the boats, in the shade of coconut trees were fishers Nelson “Broom” McGuire and Angus Webb.
McGuire is one of the boat owners who has not signed the agreement. He said in addition to the compensation being insufficient, he is confused about the whole situation. “We have no objection about leaving, but where are we going? Unto now, they have not told us to go point A or point B, which is a fact,” McGuire told SEARCHLIGHT.
McGuire, 59 said he does not know where he can go where his boats and gear will be safe from the reach of thieves. At Rose Place, he is able to lock away his engine, fuel, lines, hooks and other fishing gear in a secure storage locker.
He said it is the responsibility of the government to relocate them to a secure site, because “they come and meet us here.”
“We are fishermen, we are not squatting.We are the foundation,” he said, and explained that the Sir James Mitchell administration had built storage lockers for them on the site in the 1990s, giving them some legitimacy.
Fellow fisherman, Angus Webb echoed McGuire’s position that good security at the new location was the main concern.
McGuire said the Fisherman’s Organization at Rose Place had made a counterproposal of $60,000, to the Government’s offer of $18,000, which was rejected. He said the larger sum would have allowed him to build a reasonable storeroom for himself at a new location, buy a new engine and give his crew some money.
“It is very unfair, very, very unfair,” he said of the situation, adding, “I swallowed my tears”.
The experienced boat captain however admitted that in the end, he will have no other choice but to accept the offer.
SEARCHLIGHT obtained one of the letters sent to boat operators, which gave the recipient until Sunday, July 31, 2022 to “cease operations, vacate the area and remove all possessions”.
The letter also offered the fisherman an allowance for relocating the vessel – $400; an allowance for vessel improvements $13,000; transport support for three crew members and one boat boy – $2,400; cost of a storage shed $2,500; and a bonus for timely removal of the vessel – $500, for a total compensation of $18,800.
“In order to collect your compensation, you must first demonstrate that the site you currently occupy has been cleared of vessel and gears,” the letter stated.
SEARCHLIGHT understands that the minimum compensation that has been offered for storage sheds is $2,500. Fishers whose sheds have a greater value will be paid more, and boat operators who store their gear in one of the 12 government-owned storage lockers at Rose Place will also receive $2,500.
A source familiar with the situation at Rose Place told SEARCHLIGHT that 20 of the 35 registered boat owners do not have functioning boats, but they will nevertheless receive compensation.The source said many of these boats have not gone to sea for quite some time because of mechanical problems, so the compensation package may allow them to get
up and running again.
Mark Dennie, another boat captain of over 30 years’ experience who operates from the area told SEARCHLIGHT that while he agrees that the compensation package is inadequate, he signed the agreement because “even if you ain’t take the money, you still have to move.”
“You might end up with nothing,” he added, reasoning that it is better to take what is being offered and go. Like McGuire, he shared that concern for the security of his boat and gear at a new location is foremost in his mind.
The Prime Minister commented on radio on Wednesday that he believes the reluctance by some fishermen to sign the agreement is because of politics or greed, but he will not allow “personal vanities, personal agendas or petty politics” to interfere with the project.
One boat operator told SEARCHLIGHT that while some fishers may have indeed been swayed by politics, at this point, the most pressing issue to be dealt with is the installation of lights and other security measures at the alternative sites that have been proposed. The contract for the construction of the EC$600 million Port Modernization Project was signed on May 4, 2022 between the Government of St.Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Sellhorn Engineering based in Germany, and Aecon Construction Group Inc. The Project is being funded by the Caribbean Development Bank, the British Government, and the Export Import Bank of Taiwan.