The local Coast Guard did not receive a distress call from a couple attacked aboard their yacht in Union Island on Oct. 3, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves told Parliament this week.
“… the call was made but he didn’t get it,” Gonsalves said of the Coast Guard officer monitoring for distress calls at the Base in Calliaqua at the time.
An email sent to the Office of the Prime Minister, which was also circulated on the Internet, says that cruisers aboard the 39-foot sailing vessel Rainbow, anchored off Frigate Rock near Union Island, were attacked by a machete-wielding assailant.
“Reports indicate the assailant entered the interior of the boat without warning and severely mutilated the female occupant’s face.
“The male occupant grabbed a kitchen knife and successfully fought off the assailant while receiving injuries.
“After providing the female occupant with initial first aid, the male occupant contacted Grenada Rescue One, pulled anchor and proceeded to Carriacou where officials and medical personnel were waiting dockside,” said the email sent by by sailor Maurice Howland, who said he listened to the attack on his VHF radio.
The victims of the attack have been identified as Mark Beiser and Tina Curtin.
Gonsalves was responding in Parliament to a question submitted by Terrance Ollivierre MP for Southern Grenadines, where the incident occurred, about the non-response of the Coast Guard.
Ollivierre was absent from Parliament and Vynnette Frederick, an Opposition senator, read the question.
In his question to Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, Ollivierre, said distress calls were sent out but were not answered by local Coast Guard nor police, but by Grenadians.
He asked the Prime Minister to say if there are VHF radios or other surveillance equipment at strategic locations in the state to monitor distress calls from persons in difficulties in Vincentian waters.
Ollivierre also wanted to know what mechanisms are put in place to guarantee a prompt response to such distress calls in times of difficulties.
Gonsalves told Parliament that following a report, on Oct. 4, around 10:40 a.m., Coast Guard vessel SVG11, with five officers on-board, left the Coast Guard Base at Calliaqua for Union Island to assist police there to investigate a yacht break-in that had occurred on Oct. 3 about 7:30 p.m.
He told Parliament that it was reported that the owner of the yacht, an American, and his girlfriend received injuries during the attack.
Gonsalves said the sailors were assisted by other yachties who received the distress call and then they lifted anchor and headed for Carriacou, where Beiser arranged a flight to take his girlfriend to Grenada for medical treatment.
The Prime Minister further stated that the woman injured in the attack was in stable condition in hospital in Grenada.
He said that the man had indicated that he made a general broadcast on his VHF radio on the emergency channel.
But the Prime Minister said that while the Coast Guard monitors 24-hours a day for distress calls, the petty officer on duty that day said no call was received at the Coast Guard Base in Calliaqua.
“In other words, the call was made but he didn’t get it,” Gonsalves said, adding that when there are incidents like these, he requests the general report from the Commissioner of Police but also wants to know what the officer involved is saying.
He said he was out of state when the incident occurred and when he returned he contacted the injured woman and expressed regret on behalf of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The woman, he told Parliament, said the people of Union Island were generally very friendly.
“I invited her and Mr. Beiser to come to St. Vincent and the Grenadines as personal guests of the Prime Minister so that we can show, through them, our own sense of hospitality …” he told lawmakers.
Gonsalves said that police stations and Coast Guard bases are equipped with VHF radios including Port Elizabeth, Bequia in the Northern Grenadines.
He said that in June, marine transceivers and antennas were installed at police stations in Chateaubelair, Rose Hall, Barrouallie, Owia, Paget Farm, and Union Island to monitor distress calls from persons in difficulties in the nation’s waters.
The systems were tested and communication established with J6MC lighthouse in southern St. Lucia and the J8F at Fort Charlotte, St. Vincent.
He said these radios are monitored on a 24-hour basis.
He further said that a new VHF repeater is being installed, which would give all stations the capability to receive signals via channel 16, the VHF marine distress channel.
The channel is monitored at the Coast Guard on a 24-hour basis, Gonsalves further said.
“Normally, they ought to have received that distress call. … Officer Johnson, who is a diligent person, didn’t hear it. And this is what I am told, that VHF radio operates on the straight line concept, meaning that the radio waves only travel in a straight line. So, any obstruction to the waves will affect the communications process,” Gonsalves said.
He further said that the height of an antenna location and brand of radio have direct bearing on the effectiveness of the communication.
There are instances where the VHF communication can only be heard in a 10-mile range, Gonsalves said.
He further noted that the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) is installed at the Coast Guard base, which provides the capability to receive alerts from persons or vessels on a GMDSS handset.
The GMDSS is an internationally agreed-upon set of safety procedures, types of equipment, and communication protocols used to increase safety and make it easier to rescue distressed ships, boats and aircraft.
“The information which we obtained from the Coast Guard is that when the incident occurred, he lifted his anchor and headed for Carriacou. While on his way, he broadcasted ‘help, help’ on the VHF and was assisted by a vessel. So that the idea that the coast guard was negligent, that they didn’t respond, is not borne out by what is before me,” Gonsalves said.