Hurricane Gonzalo leaves boats listing

POSTED: 10/23/14 7:31 PM

St. Maarten – Not since hurricane Luis has so much damage been inflicted on the local marine industry with over 50 boats badly damaged– some beyond repairs while those that can be considered lucky will need major repairs– and the salvaging operation is still in it’s initial stages on this side of the island.

The scope of the damages cannot be appreciated unless one takes the time to visit the areas where boats are still listing on their sides, some partially submerged and others tied to a secure spot in an attempt to minimize the possibility of additional damages.

However, the recovery effort has been more than challenging, according to John Gifford, an engineer with Simpson Bay Diesel Services N.V who is one of the companies tasked with the responsibility of salvaging the sunken boats around the island on a day to day basis.

Unlike most people, this is close to home for Gifford, who is also the Chairman of the Heineken Regatta Committee. Despite his usually busy schedule, Gifford agreed to speak about the arrival of Gonzalo and the challenges he has faced so far.

“Everybody got caught off guard. The lessons of Lenny and Luis were well learned and practiced for a number of years. But the problem with Gonzalo was that nobody expected that and it was supposed to be a tropical storm and not even a strong one. Then it developed quickly and that was when some people realized they were not ready,” he said.

According to Gifford, between the French and Dutch sides, he thinks that between 50 to 60 boats have to be salvaged and that is just a rough estimate. The smoothness of the salvaging operation varies depending on the location of the boats, damage to said boat and it’s ability to float after it has been salvaged.

“The boats that are closer to the shoreline presents another type of challenge because they have to be checked for holes and if that is found they have to be patched before the cranes can swing it back into deeper water,” he added.

The salvaging of the boats is a team effort; divers are also involved and Simpson Bay Diesel Services N.V, which have leased two barges and one crane are covering all the bases. “This is a new company and we are all trying to figure it out, but every job is a little bit different and you don’t know what you are getting into, until you are in it.”

In case people are wondering how come some boats are removed and other are still in the same spot, Gifford supplied the answer. “You are not allowed to remove a boat unless contacted by the owners, it’s private property,” he noted.

However, because of the geographic layout of the island, Gonzalo caused more marine damage on the French side than to the Dutch side. “The severity of the damages to the boats on the French side was greater on the ocean side, the damages to the boats in Oyster Pond were not so bad,” he said.

The recovery effort will depend on the responses from the various boat owners and Gifford anticipates that it should be complete in a few weeks. He credited the expedience of the adjusters from Nagico Insurance as an asset to the operation.

“Nagico is there to ensure that the people get what they need when they need it, they have got their adjusters out there working hard with all the salvage operators. To the marine industry who is insured, I think that they are in great hands.  But a part of the problem with these situations is that no one takes responsibility for the mess and it does not get cleaned up and that is bad for the marine industry and the island. I think that compared to Luis and Lenny, this was minor, but it could have been worse and we will recover. I don’t think it will have an impact on the marine program for this year, but this was a very serious lesson.” He concluded.






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