Mr. President, we are here today at this special sitting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the MV Christena disaster, to share the grief felt by all, and in so doing, impart strength and courage to the bereaved in the hope that, with time, the prayers of the multitude will bring them comfort.
While this special sitting might remind us of the pain felt 50 years ago, we see it as necessary to show our respect to those who have perished. It is also our way of showing the surviving family and friends that we have not forgotten their departed loved ones. Nor have we forgotten the enormity of the tragedy on that fateful day.
To those left behind, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives and children, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis mourns with you on the 50th anniversary of this tragedy. We stand with you as one united family to share the burden of your grief.
I am fully aware, Mr. President, that there is no script in dealing with grief; there is no rule in managing sorrow and no manual for mourning. However, I trust that this special sitting will contribute in consoling all who have lost someone in the disaster and that today, tomorrow, the day after and in the years to come, they will find the fortitude to go on and keep moving forward.
Mr. President, each person who perished on that day had a name, a face and a story. There were those who were returning home from visiting friends and family. There were the fun lovers who were planning to enjoy the horse-racing over the holiday weekend on Nevis. There were the hucksters and farmers who were returning to Nevis after a long day of selling their produce in St. Kitts. There were teachers, nurses, other civil servants – persons from all regions of the career spectrum who had their contributions to nation building cut short. Let us honour and remember these ones and let their memories become an inspiration and a blessing for all.
The psychological effects of the disaster have never truly been assessed. The loss of breadwinners in the family undoubtedly had a devastating impact on those left behind, especially the children. Older siblings, extended family members, and grandparents had to assume the role of parents. What we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was common in the aftermath of the disaster. Symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, poor concentration, and depression were all evident in the wake of the tragedy. Indeed, the disaster had a tragic impact on our national psyche. Reflect if you will that in 1970 there was no psychological counseling available. Those who suffered were forced to suffer alone.
Yet, Mr. President, even though our hearts are broken and our pain is deep and enduring, we have a reason for hope. Our hearts are full of hope and gratitude for all those who survived that tragic day. The fullness of our hearts extends to those seafaring individuals who selflessly used their watercrafts to save countless lives. Their action demonstrated that heroism is found not only on the battlefield or in the movies. It does not require any special skill, training, or physical strength. Heroism is in the hearts of all of us just waiting for the appropriate time and circumstance to be summoned. On that fateful day, the men and women who sacrificed so much in the service of others, indeed became heroes. I pause to remember Captain Arthur Anslyn of blessed memory and Captain Winston Skeete both of whom gave heroic service on that fateful day.
Mr. President, as members of this Honourable House, we can seek to honour those who have perished by taking the responsibility of ensuring that a tragedy of this nature never occurs again. Thankfully, in the years following the disaster, successive governments have dutifully enforced the code of safety for commercial small vessels operating between the twin-island Federation. The statutory bodies of the St. Kitts Air and Sea Ports Authority and the Nevis Air and Sea Ports Authority, were established by Acts of Parliament in 1993 and 1995 respectively to oversee the safe operation of our Federation’s ports.
We salute the diligent efforts of these bodies to mitigate against a reoccurrence of a disaster such as was witnessed in 1970. Further, the Department of Maritime Affairs has ensured that the following codes are strictly enforced:
1. The owners of ferries must have an accurate record and count of passengers and crew traveling on their vessels.
2. Life jackets on any vessel must be enough to supply the passenger capacity of the vessel.
3. The number of passengers that a ferry can accommodate must be clearly marked on the vessel and not exceeded.
4. When vessels are leaving a port they are required to inform each port of the number of passengers aboard the ferry and their destination.
5. Each vessel must be operated by a competent and certified operator.
Mr. President, with a determination to always take into consideration the valuable lessons learned from the Christena disaster, we will continue as a government to support the maritime department in enforcing these codes.
As these regulations are enforced, let us continue in our prayers to God for His guidance, help, and safety as we traverse our waters on a daily basis.
Mr. President, in the years following the Christena disaster, we have suffered numerous man-made and natural disasters, which could be described as national crises. Each time we have always dug deep and overcome them with resilience and hope. Hope for a brighter today, hope for a greater tomorrow. While we must not forget those who perished, we must also restore and rebuild the living. The time has truly come for us as a people to do more and to fix this tragedy in its proper historical context as the single most significant human tragedy in our Nation’s living memory.
Mr. President, after consultation with my colleagues in the Nevis Island Cabinet, I wish to announce three new initiatives from the Nevis Island Administration in memory of the lives lost on that fateful day:
1. The Christena Memorial Scholarship – to give assistance to persons for study in the field of Maritime and Port Operations.
2. The Christena Memorial Fund – The Nevis Island Administration, through its Youth and Sports Department, will sponsor swimming lessons each year during the summer months and these classes will be free of cost to participants.
3. The Christena Memorial Foundation – will offer assistance to persons who are doing research on the Christena Disaster with a view to improving and increasing the body of literature available.
Mr. President, a disaster such as this often forces us to do some introspection and reflection on the manner in which we live our lives and on our relationship with others. We take stock of our mortality and we are reminded of the fleeting nature of life. We recognize that what truly matters most is not money, fame, or power but our relationship with family and friends and the small part we have played in making the lives of others better. The brevity of life should move all of us to be our better selves. Better in our private and professional lives, better friends, neighbours, colleagues, parents, and, of course, better citizens.
In closing, Mr. President let me sound the clarion call for a permanent monument to this tragedy to be erected on the sister island of St Kitts so that this tragedy can be recognized on both islands and throughout our beloved Nation with the significance and reverence that it deserves and demands.
I end by once again offering my prayers for the eternal and tranquil repose of the departed souls, and my sincere and heartfelt wish that the bereaved families may find peace.
May it please you, Mr. President