IN the wake of the recent near-miss tragedy on the Essequibo River recently, I feel compelled to speak out about another near- miss disaster, one that could have been much, much worse and which occurred on December 12, 2016, several miles from Bartica, up the Essequibo River.
A boatload of us was returning from a day trip to the Essequibo Islands (Fort Island, Sloth Island, Etc etc), a package that was offered by Dagron Tours based in Georgetown. We left the last location (Kyke Over Al) after 4:30 pm and started to make our way back to Parika when just about 15 minutes into the trip, it was discovered that the boat started to tilt on the rear as it was taking in water. The passengers became so afraid, terrified was the word. There we were in open seas, it was practically getting dark, river traffic was coming to a halt for the day and the boat (a fibre-glass boat) was taking in water rapidly and it was beginning to show signs that it would sink as it was leaning backwards.
The captain signalled other nearby passing boats, who either did not understand our plight or they were just selfish to not show concern as to what was going on. I became terrified. I saw death before me as the water started to fill the boat from the back. It was in a very peculiar position now in the water, we slowed down. Passengers started to panic as those who were seated in the rear started to use receptacles to bail water out the boat. The pump that was also supposed to help pump the excess water out the flooding boat was not working properly. It was of little help.
Finally, a passing Parika- bound speedboat pulled up alongside us but a lady and her baby were the only ones they could have carried across. They eventually made off to Parika with the hope they would get help for us. I was so scared. It was now getting near six o’ clock, the place was getting dark and there we were, stranded in the middle of nowhere. Where was the army patrol when you need one, I asked myself.
The captain made the boat drift slowly to the bushy shore, but we needed a landing. We were not seeing any. Meanwhile, more boats were passing and did not seem to care a bit as to what was happening to us (maybe they were oblivious to our plight). The boat was nearly filled with water in the back when we found a landing and got out. Some people there were very kind to us as we waited for the trip-planner to leave with their (the people’s) boat to go get help a few landings away. It was pitch dark now as we waited, and waited ,and waited. I was supposed to have been on my way home to Berbice by now. The planner was not returning with help. Phone signals were poor to non-existent. The people whose landing we pulled up on were serving coffee and drinks, but all I could think about was getting out of there and safely back to land.
Oh, we were hearing that boat owners back at Parika expressed reluctance to come down the river so late for us. Can you imagine this selfishness? We were in danger, stranded and that was the attitude, finally, more than an hour and a half later, help came and we were ferried to Parika, we arrived after 9pm in moonlight.
It was a near- death experience I would never like to experience again and have not spoken out until now, but I no longer can hold my peace, since something needs to be done to improve the standards of this operation along this river. The company refunded some cash to many passengers after this horrible incident. One of these days some group might not be so lucky. The government must intervene to ensure the safety of passengers who travel along this river on a daily basis. Patrols need to be done by the army. Help points should be established along this lonely stretch of river from Parika to Bartica. That could have been a disaster, whereby over 15 persons would have died. I am thankful I came out alive. How many more stories like these happen on these rivers, but are never heard of or told?