By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
A CONCERNED boater has criticised the Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s response time following an incident at sea where a smoking boat was left in distress for hours.
The boater, who wished to remain anonymous, was not on this vessel, but spotted it approximately 10 miles away from the RBDF Coral Harbour Base. He, along with his cousin attempted to assist the victims, who were suffering from the smoke exposure.
The victims said they had been told by the US Coast Guard that the RBDF would need two hours to respond to them.
The boater reporting the story to The Tribune said no help arrived during the full hour he and his cousin stayed with the distressed vessel.
“To me it’s very ridiculous, as a boater especially,” the boater said of the incident that occurred on November 24. “I have a boat. To be that close to Nassau. And what are we paying these people for, we can’t get any assistance?”
The RBDF confirmed to The Tribune that such an incident was reported to the agency on November 24. Lieutenant Commander Carlon Bethell acknowledged that the distressed vessel was indeed given a response time of two hours, adding the closest asset that could have responded was in the Exumas — hence the delay.
“I think sometimes people get the misconception that…it is probably like calling the police station and a car jumping on the road and going out,” Lt Bethell said. “But, say for instance a vessel is 35 miles away from the nearest asset, we have and that asset can only do 15-17 knots. It’s going to take two hours for them to get there, regardless of how close that might seem.”
According to the boater, he was going on a fishing trip with his cousin that morning when they spotted a US Coast Guard helicopter flying over their vessel around 10am.
He said around 3pm, on their way back, they saw smoke in the distance. He estimated they were about 10 miles away from the distressed boat at this time.
“We wouldn’t have crossed each other’s paths, but with so much smoke, it looked like the boat was burning down, we said ‘well we have go over there,’” he said.
“So I said turn on the radio…the boat in severe distress. The two mates were on the roof of the boat, apparently. Meanwhile, I didn’t hear the defence force in any of this. We were 10miles away from the (RBDF) base.
“The Coast Guard said ‘the (RBDF) is going to be there in two hours.’ We’re 10 miles away from their base. The guy on the radio said, ‘yea, they said that three hours ago.’
“So, we approached the boat, it looked like it was on fire. But it’s not on fire…It’s a mayday distress situation, because you don’t know how long these guys were exposed to smoke, they were really sick.
“We saw no sign of the defence force, and the defence force did not call them at all,” the boater continued. “We followed them in until two miles out from (RBDF) base. And some other pleasure boats were around - not to assist them, but around. We had to go because it was getting dark, but we figured they’d made it this far.”
The boater said they stayed with the distressed vessel for roughly an hour and 15 minutes.
The boater added he was incensed by the RBDF commodore recently saying the RBDF only had three vessels that were down for maintenance and wondered why none had been deployed to assist the vessel.
Lt Cdr Bethell explained to The Tribune that quick response vessels are not part of the vessels the commodore was referring to, saying those are larger vessels.
“We had our quick response asset already out on a mission down in Forest Green Cay, which is over 60 miles away. “The closest asset that we had was in the Exumas area…that could’ve (responded). It would have taken them about two hours because of the distance and the speed that they can make.
“The (RBDF) would always have at least one quick response vessel inside of harbour. We have several of them out in the harbour patrol that would be considered quick response because of the speed, but not necessarily stationed just for search and rescue or for quick response in that vein.”
Lt Cdr Bethell said ultimately, the vessel informed the RBDF that they were able to come into Coral Harbour independently.
“When we contacted them, they said they were coming into Coral Harbour. So I’m assuming they must have dockage in Coral Harbour somewhere - they may live in Coral Harbour and that’s where they reside, and they said, ‘hey, we’re five miles out of Coral Harbour right now, we’re making our way safely.’ And that was the end of that. My asset would have been deployed to the location we first got the report, but they continued. “