August 17, 2012
Ordeal at sea not linked to drugs – fisherman

One of two Barrouallie fishermen, rescued recently after almost three weeks adrift, says they were not involved in any wrongdoings that caused them to end up in Columbia.{{more}}

The men, Matthew Francis of Bottle and Glass, and Roger Thomas of Keartons, encountered difficulties while travelling to St Lucia last month.

Francis told SEARCHLIGHT he and Thomas were actually rescued about 500 miles off Puerto Rico, by Bahamas registered ship DOLE AFRICA, which took them to Columbia, because that was where the ship was headed.

“Since I come is like, people telling me the same thing. But I was like, ‘No, we didn’t go nowhere to look for drugs. We just drift and we don’t have no control over where we drift.’

“I’m telling people that we didn’t drift to Columbia. That’s the boat destination, so we had to go to Columbia.”

Francis and Thomas left St Vincent on July 2, on the “Lady Queen”, on their way to St Lucia to bring friends back for the Vincy Mas festivities.

He said that the men realized that for the time they had been travelling, they should have already seen the neighbouring island, but no land was in sight.

“So we start to call people from inside and tell them we ain’t seeing nothing and the time we dey running we start to lose on the gas, and the guys them tell us they will come off and see if they see us, but the place was white and when we check for the compass, we forgot the compass and the GPS (Global Positioning System) on land.

“We start to call 911 and we tell them we on the sea and we dey in problem and they told us they will contact the coast guard and the coast guard will call us.”

The 25-year-old fisherman said that efforts by their friends from St Lucia to locate them proved futile, and they had drifted out of cell phone range, beginning their 19-day ordeal at sea, without food, and only a two litre bottle of fresh water to share between them.

“The first night we were there, we saw a light coming from under us … and we had phones with the light and we were signaling the boat, but no one came out and the boat just passed us …”

Francis said that on numerous occasions, boats and ships passed from various distances, but none came to their rescue, despite their waving of makeshift flags and empty fuel containers.

He said on hindsight,

if they had known the proper distress signals, they might have been rescued sooner.

The fact that vessels were passing gave the men hope that they would be rescued, and Francis told SEARCHLIGHT that the men encouraged each other daily that all would be well.

“I was telling my partner that one day God will send a boat for us; we must touch land again, and he was telling me the same thing.”

“So it come like every day we were seeing boats and we were always getting hope … And we used to hope and pray for a boat to come.

On the morning of July 19, the men’s prayers were answered when Thomas spotted the DOLE AFRICA from a distance. He alerted Francis, and the men performed a ritual that they had repeated many days before, this time with success.

“I was there with the gas jug and a jersey waving, and the next guy, he was down by the other end tapping the engine and waving. When I look, I saw like a man come out and he signal to us that he coming back …

“Then the boat pass us and reach like from Buccament to here, before it turn around and I saw it start to come back and then it stop a small distance from us.”

Francis said that attempting to board the vessel itself was also a challenge, but once on board, the men were made welcome, and taken to Columbia, the ship’s destination.

He said that once on board, they contacted their families in St Vincent to inform them they were alive, and preparations were made to have the men return home, without the “Lady Queen”.

The men travelled from Columbia to Panama, then to Trinidad, then St Vincent, touching home soil on August 2, one month after the left home.

Francis said that he is very thankful to have been rescued, and is happy to be home among family and friends, especially his girlfriend and 3-year-old son.

SEARCHLIGHT was not able to speak to Thomas, who was unavailable at the time.(JJ)