by Devonne Cornelius
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The annual commemorative service for the MV Christina Disaster was held on Sunday, August 01, 2021, at the Samuel Hunkins Drive in Charlestown, on the 51st anniversary of the maritime tragedy.
The disaster which has been described as the single most impactful incident in the maritime history of St. Kitts and Nevis, claimed the lives of 233 people predominantly Nevisians when the ferry sank on a journey from Basseterre to Charlestown on August 01, 1970. Ninety passengers survived the ordeal, some are still alive today.
An organizing committee for the 51st anniversary of the tragedy interviewed survivors and family members of those who perished on the MV Christina on how the event impacted their lives. Booklets created from those interviews with pictures of survivors were presented to the Premier of Nevis, the Hon. Mark Brantley as well as Deputy Governor General, Mrs. Hyleeta Liburd, Lady Sheila Daniel, the wife of Sir Dr. Simeon Daniel, Nevis’ first Premier and former Premiers of Nevis, His Excellency Vance Amory and Mr. Joseph Parry.
Oswald Tyson, one of the survivors of the disaster; in his 2011 autobiography described Christena as “a two-decker, partly enclosed craft… she was in poor repair and she always took on water in the lower level, “he said, adding that if he had worn shoes, the water would have ruined them as it came up to my ankles.”
After the ferry boat sank, numerous injured people were in the water, and as Tyson explains, “the blood attracted the sharks. They had never bothered anyone before, that I had heard of, but on this day the sharks came like monkeys to a mango tree.”
On the afternoon of Saturday 1 August 1970 (the weekend of the annual Emancipation Day holiday), the ferry boat was overloaded on her final run of the day from St. Kitts to Nevis. The passenger capacity was 155, but that afternoon Christena had approximately 320 people on board. When the boat was half a mile off Nags Head and entering the rougher seas that line up with the channel between the two islands, the ferry boat took on water and sank. Only 91 people survived, and the great majority of those were people that had to be rescued.
After the sinking, 57 bodies were retrieved and identified; 66 bodies were retrieved but were unidentifiable. A number of bodies were trapped inside the sunken wreckage, and these bodies were left in place: “A decision was made to leave the boat and [the entrapped] bodies undisturbed” notes the late Arthur Anslyn, who was the Captain of the Caribe Queen, and who was hired by the Commission of Inquiry to dive the site after August 01″.
A memorial to the disaster is located on the waterfront in Charlestown; that memorial reads, “In loving memory of all those who lost their lives in the Christena disaster of August 1st, 1970 R.I.P.” A memorial headstone is located in the Bath cemetery where some of the bodies retrieved are buried.
Also in attendance at the commemorative service were Deputy Premier of Nevis, the Hon. Alexis Jeffers, Junior Minister of Health, the Hon. Hazel Brandy-Williams, Junior Minister of Education, the Hon. Troy Liburd as well as survivors and family members of those who died on the MV Christina.