by Eulana Weekes
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Saturday, August 01, 1970, in the minds of many people, was the most sorrowful day in the modern history of St. Kitts and Nevis after news broke about the sinking of the MV Christena.
The sinking of the Christena had been described as the Titanic tragedy of the Caribbean, as it had reached the airwaves of media houses all across the globe and touched the lives of so many people far beyond the shores of St.Kitts and Nevis.
Referred to by the public as the Christena Disaster, survivors, Government officials, friends, and families of those who died gather together on August 01 each year to remember the lives lost aboard the vessel.
Mostly Nevisians perished on that fateful day, as many families went to St. Kitts to conduct business, visit others and sell what they reaped from the land in hopes of returning home. Heading back to Nevis off the coast of ‘Nogs Head’, the overcrowded vessel’ began to take in water and eventually capsized and sank.
On August 1, 2011, 41 years after the tragedy, the Christena Memorial was erected in Nevis at the Charlestown waterfront. The memorial is the central location used to pay respects to the lives lost during the disaster.
On the 50th anniversary of the MV Christena Disaster, then Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris informed the nation of the Government’s commitment to erect a memorial in Basseterre in time for the anniversary the following year. COVID-19 shifted plans, but the monument was completed in 2022.
Two hundred thirty- three persons perished aboard the MV Christena, including pregnant women and children, whilst 90 persons survived to tell their tales.
The tragedy over the years continues to weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of many. Scores of people have made their personal contributions to ensuring that future generations are educated about the Christena Disaster. Some note-worthy features include:
Designer and Artiste extraordinaire Vaughn Anslyn memorialised the moment Christina sank with an art piece and also designed the tomb for the mass grave at Britannic/ Bath Cemetery.
Christena survivor Oswald ‘Ozzie’ Tyson wrote a book ‘Ozzie’s Odyssey’ where he shared vivid and detailed memories of that catastrophe.
Videographer- Patrick ‘Daddyplay’ Howell created a video re-enactment of the sinking vessel and highlighted the resiliency of Nevisians; the video titled ‘Lest we Forget.’
Mr Stevenson Manners, Educator and Journalist – re-heightened the awareness of the MV Christena Tragedy through a documentary titled ‘Christena Disaster- 50 years on’.
Another Survivor, Mr Laughton Sargeant, in an interview in 2020 with popular blogger Everton Obi Powell, gave a raw picture of how he managed to brave the open seas as a young child.
Local baker- Maurisha Walters and son Jermaine Walters designed a cake portraying the MV Christena, dubbed ‘Christena’s final Voyage’.
Nevisian Ronny Neale composed a Calypso dubbed ‘Christena went Down’ produced by Orlando Brown of Go Ventures Films, whilst Blues singer Denise Gordon alongside local musician Jazzique Chiverton composed the song ‘Sail On’ to commemorate the tragedy’s 50th anniversary.
Captain- Mr Winston Skeete, for many years, sailed the vessel MV Sea Hustler to the site of Christena’s wreckage and laid wreaths to honour the fallen.
Premier of Nevis Mark Brantley shared some of the mental impacts that the tragedy has had on survivors and the wider Nevisian public and expressed hope that the people would continue to build strength in dealing with the effects of the Christena Disaster.
“I believe that, while some has been said about Christena, the whole story is yet to be told in terms of the social trauma that it created. We have to reflect that, in those days, we didn’t have the counselling services and the psychiatric services that are available today; so imagine you woke up one day and mommy, daddy, uncle and aunt all of them perished. Some families were torn asunder because children were left to be sent to various family members to be raised; one child, one place; one child, another place etc. I know of one friend of mine, living in Brown Hill, who was a survivor, and he has never, in 53 years, gone back to St. Kitts or gone back on a boat. He refuses to leave. There are some people who, since that time, [have not even fished], there are some people who since that time, refuse to go to the sea, and in fact, some say that is why a lot of Nevisians cannot swim because we’re not minded to go to the ocean. That, in my mind, is a collective trauma that we still have from the Christena Disaster. It is my hope that in time, we will be able to deal with this tragedy, perhaps in a better way, but for now, we pay our respects each year.”