A FIRE onboard the cargo vessel the MV Cabo Star on Wednesday stranded passengers at sea for 17 hours in another major disruption to travel between Trinidad and Tobago in the last seven days after 60 flights, some domestic, were cancelled by Caribbean Airlines (CAL) when 75 pilots called in sick last weekend.
A Thursday statement from the management of the Port Authority of TT (PATT) said a fire broke out onboard the marine vessel after it left Scarborough at 11.23 pm on Wednesday.
The statement said the fire originated in the engine room but was isolated and extinguished by crew in accordance with vessel emergency protocols. No injuries were reported, and meals were provided to passengers.
PATT said the extent of the damage was yet to be determined and would be the subject of a thorough investigation.
It added that the Cabo Star would be removed from service until further notice.
Later Thursday, in a second statement, PATT said the vessel was towed to the Scarborough Port where passengers, vehicles and loose cargoes were offloaded. It would later be towed to Port to Spain to undergo investigations by the insurers, certification by the Maritime Services Division and repair works to the engine.
The PATT confirmed that the passengers were medically examined upon exiting the vessel. They said 63 passengers based in Tobago returned to tehir homes, four returned to Trinidad on the Galleon's Passage while accomodation had to be provided for 13 who returned to trinidad on Friday vioa the 6:30 am sailing.
In the interim cargo will be transported on three other vessels – the Buccoo Reef, the APT James and the Galleons Passage. They noted that priority would be given to foodstuff and all other perishables.
Newsday was present at the Scarborough Port when the vessel docked at around 5pm on Thursday.
One passenger, trucker Quinn Crosby, described the ordeal as “really bad.”
“The experience was really bad because at 12 (midnight) we went into the cabin and at about 12.30, the alarm went off and there was a lot of black smoke in the cabin. We had to exit. We went to the muster point and from then to now, it was a really tough time.”
Crosby said the passengers were well taken care of by the Cabo Star's crew.
“They gave us some bread and cheese to eat and some juice. Lunch time, they gave us some noodles – but thank God we reach in safe; it was a really, really tough scene. The members of crew on the boat, they did a really, really good job. They took care of the passengers. They did a really good job.”
Other passengers declined comment, most saying they were tired and frustrated. Contacted for comment, Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael said the assembly was fully aware of the situation but was thankful that it wasn’t as dire as first reported.
She said the THA had been in direct contact with the crew, some passengers and the PATT.
“We’ve been ensuring that the welfare needs of the passengers and the crew were taken care of while they were at sea.”
She described the situation as uncomfortable for everyone involved as the passengers were stuck on the vessel for “way longer than they had anticipated.”
Chairman of the Tobago Business Chamber Martin George was relieved that no one was injured during the incident, noting that the safety of the passengers and crew was of paramount importance. He said with the other vessels now “taking up the slack, it highlights the need for a backup cargo vessel.
“There is need for a whole lot more capabilities and capacities as far as cargo transportation between the two islands. And I think that this is an opportune time for the Minister of Works and Transport and the Port Authority officials to look into this issue of acquiring a second vessel.”
The Cabo Star, he said, “has performed wonderfully well, basically what we need is another one like it.” Also on Thursday, former president of the Inter-Isle Truckers and Traders Association Horace Amede said the situation could have been avoided.
“Years ago, we continually told them that that boat needed to change, and it fell on deaf ears. Since 2013 they met with us, we gave them a comprehensive detail of the type of vessel required and nobody listened to us.”
Just around 8: 30am on Friday, the vessel was seen leaving the Scarborough Port accompanied by two tugboats. The vessel was expected to arrive at 7am on Saturday.