Two hours after the party boat Island Royalty was escorted back to shore following safety concerns yesterday, security forces effectively shut things down after detaining the captain and promoter.
The premature action led to some angry patrons demanding their money back from the organisers as they claimed to have been short-changed.
The commercial vessel, which can accommodate up to 300 persons inclusive of its’ crew, was set to host the Silent Morning Cooler Cruise between 9 am and 2 pm.
However, it is believed the vessel was overloaded.
Following a head count by the Coast Guard and the Police Service, the number of passengers stood at 409, excluding the 15-member crew.
The two-boat premium event which saw patrons paying between US$80 and US$125 per ticket, promised a four-hour bikini boat and water festival cruise culminating in a party down the islands.
Departing the Hyatt Waterfront, Wrightson Road, around 10 am – the Island Royalty spent close to two hours out at sea before they were boarded by coast guard officials during a routine safety check.
It was reported that when officials requested a passenger manifest to determine just exactly how many persons were on board, one could not be provided.
This prompted coast guard officers to direct the captain to return to port.
Unaware of why the boat had returned to shore initially, many of the patrons Guardian Media spoke with claimed not to know the vessel had been overloaded.
And while some later expressed alarm and surprise, many others seemed to be nonchalant about the lack of adequate life jackets on board.
Party-goers on the Island Royalty were supposed to be treated to a breakfast cooler cruise, while those on the Harbour Master were expected to be treated to a premium drinks and breakfast all-inclusive complete with a variety of water activities.
The Island Royalty was scheduled to depart the Hyatt Waterfront, while the Harbour Master left their boatyard at Western Main Road, St James.
Although the promoter declined to provide his name, he claimed not to know what the fuss was about as he said, “There are no safety issues here. There was no riot or fights on board.”
Endorsing the pre-emptive action as he looked on at the chaotic scene yesterday, Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan commended the Coast Guard and TTPS for their timely intervention.
He said, “At the end of the day when you have a vessel that is licensed for a certain amount of people, and if the owners of the vessel exceed that amount, what they are doing is putting people’s lives at stake and we cannot allow that.”
Yesterday’s incident was the second such incident that the MSD, the TTPS and the Coast Guard had been forced to intervene in.
Last Sunday, the organisers of the SOCA RAFF UP 2020 experienced a mechanical issue on one of the boats.
SOCA RAFF UP 2020 began around 3 pm on February 16 and was carded to run until 8 pm aboard the vessel called The Embassy.
An SOS via social media by patrons who claimed the vessel was sinking, spurred maritime agencies to rush to their assistance.
One of the patrons claimed that approximately 90 minutes after boarding, the boat experienced mechanical and electrical problems which led to the boat taking in water.
It was only after an appeal was made to Police Commissioner Gary Griffith that other boats were brought alongside for party-goers to disembark.
As a result, Sinanan warned that “We do have inspections now on almost every vessel that goes out to make sure they are within the limit. We intend to clamp down on it.”
The minister said Cabinet recently approved new guidelines for party boats to ensure they operate within the law, and yesterday’s action was just another facet of its’ implementation.
Indicating that the MSD Director and the TTPS will determine what consequences the captain and promoter will face, even though the fines are said to be nominal, Sinanan said, “It is a work in progress. Every vessel that goes out there must have adequate life jackets and do safety briefings, and must not be overloaded.”
He added, “What you see happening here is the system working.”
Sinanan concluded, “The reports that I get about a lot of these party boats…it is really out of hand and we intend to bring it back within the guidance of the law.”
Following the arrival of Gold Commander for Carnival, DCP Jayson Forde – the captain and promoter were detained and placed in a marked police vehicle to be taken to the Central Police Station, St Vincent Street.
To party-goers over the next few days, Forde advised, “We will be having stringent checks.”
“It is the Carnival season and we want people to enjoy themselves but we do not want them endangering themselves in the midst of enjoyment.
“We will be having checks to make sure the promoters, the captains and others associated with the boats…that they do what is expected of them so they will be protecting the lives of the party-goers in their care.”