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Jul 14, 2009

Stevedores complain of sinking boat; but story has holes

Story PictureStevedores from gang two at the Port of Belize Limited are up in arms saying they are expected to function in poor working conditions. The stevedores called out the media late Monday evening and early this morning to express their discontent with a boat they say was not seaworthy for them to board and travel out to sea to unload a sugar barge. The men said the boat had big holes on it, and when they were caught in choppy seas earlier that day, it put their lives at risk. Their first attempt to reach the barge aboard the boat was on Monday afternoon, but they encountered rough seas and the men turned back. The Port of Belize called the regulatory body which inspects boats, the Belize Port Authority, and by five Monday evening the vessel was deemed seaworthy. The men were supposed to board again for six Monday evening en route to the waiting barge, but again they refused, saying they would not board the vessel if repairs were not done. At five thirty this morning again the men gathered in front of their worksite at Caesar Ridge Road, but they refused to board the boat and their employer, Port of Belize Limited, informed them that because the boat had passed inspection and they were violating the labour law by refusing to work. By ten thirty this morning the Port of Belize again summoned the Port Authority to inspect the vessel. News Five was at the port at five thirty this morning and has the sights and sounds on how the situation developed.

Marion Ali, Reporting
Thirty-six vocal stevedores on Monday night and this morning expressed their dissatisfaction with their employer, Port of Belize Limited, who they alleged, was putting their lives in danger by sending them twenty-five miles out to sea on board this vessel, the Morning Mist. Their mission was to transfer sugar from a barge to an adjacent ship destined for Europe. The men say they were reluctant to embark the Morning Mist because it had two big holes and when they were caught in rough seas on Monday morning aboard the vessel, they almost capsized because it was leaking heavily.

Lennox Bowman, Stevedore
“The barge slam into the ship and that’s how it got the big hole. Dehn just continue di ker we out like that until yesterday we almost went down, so we are not riding that boat anymore. We are willing to work but we are not riding that boat; it’s not seaworthy. We need the Port Authority to come down here to check the boat to make sure that we’re not taking a risk like we’ve been doing.”

Raymond Vaughan, Stevedore
“The boat has a hole – two holes in it. It’s not seaworthy.”

But try as we did to locate even one hole turned out to be a challenge for us. We did see where wear and tear had caused this breach on the boat’s bow. But after the Port Authority team inspected the vessel, that played no major role in the safety of the boat. Just to ensure that the boat was seaworthy, officers from the Belize Port Authority conducted an inspection and took the vessel to sea themselves to see if there was any leakage.

Marion Ali
“Is it seaworthy?”

Martin Garcia, Port State Control Officer
“It is.”

Marion Ali
“You’ve gone through from bow to stern?”

Martin Garcia
“I went from bow to stern. There is no crack underneath the hull. They have anchor, lifejacket, fire extinguisher and everything that you need for safety.”

Marion Ali
“So there is no hole?”

Martin Garcia
“There is a crack on the side of the bow. I’m waiting for them to show me a hole.”

And even this stevedore had differing views from the rest about the safety of the boat.

Godwin Henry
“Deh seh di boat got hole, I noh know if ih got hole. Di boat only ker we. We di ride di boat whole ah last week.”

Marion Ali
“And nothing never wrong with it?”

Godwin Henry
“No deh seh ih got hole, di captain seh ih got hole, I noh know if dehn see di hole, I can’t tell yoh dat.”

The delay will come at a cost for the Port of Belize and the revenue earned from sugar, since it will depart the country late. Those details of how the loss will be borne have not yet been worked out. But Port of Belize C.E.O., Raineldo Guerrero believes the men did not feel safe on choppy seas and were looking for excuses not to work just then.

Raineldo Guerrero, CEO, Port of Belize
“My experience with these guys is that while they’re very brave on land, I’ve noticed that while on sea they’re not so brave, let’s put it that way and I think they just didn’t want to go. And I think today they just wanted to make a point so they refused to go today, so we are approaching it from a disciplinary point of view. When you refuse to work twice in a row there’s a cost to this and ultimately somebody has to bear the cost and according to the labour laws, if you refuse to work for something that you’re required to do then there’s some disciplinary measure that is involved.”

Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.

Another factor which triggered the stevedores to voice their displeasure was when the Port of Belize informed them that because they had forfeited their shift on Monday, today’s shift belonged to another gang of workers. But eventually that matter was resolved and the men were allowed to work their shift.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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