BY DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Staff Reporter
A vacation cruise to The Bahamas ended in tragedy for a family of four following the drowning of 26-year-old Guyanese national Akeem Charles at Ocean Cay, a private island in The Bahamas owned by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) cruise line.
Family members believe that the beach on the artificial island is unsafe and that the lack of CPR training for the lifeguard on duty may have contributed to their loved one’s death.
Mr Charles, his mother, Simone Hazel, his sister, Ayodele Charles, and her boyfriend, Kimarley Grant, of Queens, New York, left with a group of church members on a cruise to The Bahamas on August 27.
Due to Hurricane Idalia, the ship was diverted to Nassau. The second scheduled stop was at Ocean Cay on Thursday, August 31, where the Charles family went ashore for a day at the beach.
Ayodele Charles said they left the ship around 11am and went to the first beach at the Lighthouse. Sometime around 2pm, they decided to walk to the other side of the island where the water was much calmer.
The water was not deep and had reached her thighs. Akeem, who is six feet tall, was standing in the water. At one point, his sister noticed him going “up and down” in the water.
“I came out of the water, looked at Akeem, and asked if he was okay. But I see he was not talking to me so I sent my boyfriend in the water to check on him,” Ms Charles said.
“After a time, my brother fell head first and started to float. So, my boyfriend grabbed his hand and called for help,” she said.
A lifeguard on duty assisted in getting her brother to shore, where a bystander had attempted to administer CPR.
As he lay helpless on the beach, Ms Charles said the lifeguard would not allow anyone, not even a registered nurse who was at the beach, to assist her brother.
She claimed that the lifeguard did not know how to perform CPR correctly. A defibrillator was also used but could not revive him. Akeem was placed on a stretcher and taken on a golf cart to the ship.
Bimini police are continuing investigations into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
According to Sherryann Charles, her brother was excited about the trip and had saved enough money to buy a ticket for their mother. He worked at Amazon in the packaging department.
She said that he was a deacon in his church and was well loved by everyone who knew him.
“The thing that is so sad is that my brother is only 26 years old, and he does not have any children. He worked hard to go on that trip, only to die.”
She believes that the beach is unsafe for visitors who are not aware of previous incidents involving guests.
“I heard that more persons drowned in the area as well and I don’t know why it is still a tourist attraction,” Ms Charles commented.
She said her two siblings would have stayed onboard the ship and not gone to the beach had they known about previous drowning incidents at Ocean Cay.
According to police reports, shortly after 5pm on Thursday, August 31, officers attached to the Alice Town Police Station received reports of a man who was found by a lifeguard floating and appeared to be unresponsive on Radio Beach, North Bimini.
Police said the victim was retrieved from the water and examined by the local doctor who confirmed no signs of life.
In March 2023, a 51-year-old Korean cruise passenger at Ocean Cay was found unresponsive at Light House Beach.
In her research, Ms Charles said she learned that Ocean Cay was an old mining site.
Ocean Cay was built by dredging in the late 1960s and was used to mine Aragonite sand for diverse industrial purposes. In 2015, MSC Cruise Line signed a 100-year lease agreement with the Bahamian government to redevelop the island into a new $200m resort for the cruise line.
Following the incident, the family claimed they had received no apology or expression of sympathy from cruise representatives. They had to continue on the cruise while the body remained in Ocean Cay.
Ms Charles said the family is concerned about when Akeem’s body would be flown to Nassau. They were informed by police officials that a charter flight on Friday was postponed due to maintenance issues.
“We are trying to cope. His body is still in Ocean Cay. We just want justice for our brother and to have better procedures in place,” she said.
When contacted, Assistant Superintendent of Police Stephen Rolle told The Tribune that the body should have been in New Providence by Monday.
The mother, Simone Hazel, who is back in the United States, is awaiting the release of her son’s body so that funeral arrangements can be made. She said there is a relative in Nassau who can identify the body.
The family has created a GoFundMe page https://gofund.me/6e7db401 for help to defray funeral and memorial services costs.
Latia Duncombe, deputy director of tourism, was contacted for comment, however, she did not return the call up to press time.
When contacted by The Tribune, MSC Cruises said: “All of us at MSC Cruises are saddened by the death of a passenger travelling aboard MSC Meraviglia during the ship’s call at Ocean Cay on August 31. The safety of our guests is our top priority, and we are working with Bahamian Police and Medical authorities as they complete their investigation.”