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Tuesday 24 April 2018
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Letters to the Editor

Not first time no boat to Tobago

THE EDITOR: Roodal Moonilal has told Parliament that it is “the first time since 1797 we don’t have a boat between Trinidad and Tobago…” It was in that year that Spanish Trinidad was taken over by the British. (Tobago had been British since 1793, but would revert to French rule in 1802. Not for long: the British took over again the next year, though it was only in 1814 that ships resumed regular sailings between the two islands.)

A few days before Moonilal, Michael Annisette of the SWWTU was reported as saying that the recent passenger sea-bridge collapse was “the first… in the history of the sea bridge.”

Constance McTair sees things somewhat differently from both gentlemen. In her excellent 2006 book The Bocas and The Bulldog: the story of sea communication between Trinidad and Tobago (it should be required reading for port, politicians and passengers), she makes mention of the 11-year interruption between 1803 and 1814.

She then writes of the two inter-island steamers, the Trinidad and the Tobago (I remember them well), which had been acquired in 1931, and had been “specially built,” she says, “for conditions in the coastal waters of Trinidad and Tobago.”

She continues: “(On) January 31, 1957, the Harbour Master declared the Trinidad unseaworthy and pulled her out of service. Five days later, on February 4, the Tobago was withdrawn, ostensibly for repairs. The truth was that both vessels were in a parlous state. The 1957 Wharton Commission found that the only work done on the vessels for the first 16 years was the scraping and painting of their bottoms… The Harbour Master gave the government no advance notice of his intention to pull the vessels out of service. Needless to say, he gave the public no notice. Passengers were stranded. Trade came to a halt. Tobago was again cut off from the world.”

The Eric Williams government, which had come to office just a few months before, was not amused by the Harbour Master’s decision, and immediately instructed that replacement vessels be found. Five were chartered in no time flat: the first sailing after the January 31 shutdown was on February 8.

More than 60 years later, we are still floundering.

REGINALD DUMAS via e-mail

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