WHEN captain James Kirwan, 59, and his crew set sail from Chaguaramas aboard Crystal Eye on Thursday, for a week of fishing in Tobago waters, the only thing on their minds was the number of shark and tuna they intended to catch.
However, just a few days into the trip, Kirwan and four fishermen had to abandon ship and jump into the Caribbean Sea on Saturday night, after huge waves crashed into the 55-foot trawler causing it to sink.
The ordeal led one of the men to make an immediate religious conversion after a Bahamian vessel, The Siem Spearfish, rescued them just after 2 am on Sunday. Kirwan; Kyle Dyer, 31; Azim Baksh, 35; Keston Frederick, 36; and Jerome Nicome, 63 had been drifting in the water with just their life jackets for almost two hours.
Kirwan told Newsday they had been in their glee on Saturday, having already reeled in over 3,000 pounds of fish. However, the dream fishing expedition turned into a nightmare by nightfall when the sea began to get churn near the Grenada border.
“Everything was all right. The weather wasn’t bad. We already had 3,400 pounds of shark and some other big fish. I decided to let the crew pack up the gears and take a rest.”
Moments later the sea turned rough, but Kirwan encouraged the men to remain calm, even though, he said, “Drawers in the kitchen cupboard were falling out, things were falling and the boat was aggressively rocking.”
This made Kirwan pay closer attention to the changes in the weather as the men tried to put the drawers and other items back in place.
“I saw the big swell coming. I saw different swells coming one after the other. I didn’t take them on, but the boat was speed(ing) ahead. We were heading back to the fishing grounds.
“That was when a swell came and break right over the boat and covered the deck. After that, water just continued to come in from the deck. The water came in, lifted a box and pinned one of the guys. He nearly went overboard.”
As other crew members were freeing their colleague, another large wave broke over the vessel. Water rushed on board and into the engine room.
“I didn’t want to stop the boat, because it would make things worse, so I turned the boat around. While I was doing that, another swell came. I almost flew off the deck.”
With that amount of water onboard, the crew realised the situation was becoming unmanageable.
“We even tried to pump it out, but it was down in the water already. We realised no matter what we do, we were sinking,” Kirwan told Newsday.
He had no choice but to cut the engine and send out an immediate distress call.
But Kirwan, who is a strong believer in the Christian faith, said he felt peace.
“I know no matter what, I always have God as my captain. He’s in charge of everything, so I never worry about the ocean over the years…I have faith. I’ve been through a lot and God took me out of all of them.”
As the men quickly debated their next move, responses to their mayday calls came through from a vessel on the north coast, the Bahamian boat, the coast guard and people in Barbados.
Just before the sea swallowed the rest of their boat, the men put on their life jackets and jumped into the water. They had no time to grab any personal items.
“In the water, I made sure we kept close. I still tried to manage things. The men were scared, I couldn’t show any fear, I needed to keep them calm, strong and hopeful…I told them everything would be all right.”
Floating in the chilly waters for more than an hour, Kirwan said Frederick began showing symptoms of hypothermia.
According to the Center for Disease Control, hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up the body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature. This can lead to the body’s major organs, including the heart, to not function properly. Left untreated, it can lead to death.
To get warmer, Frederick wanted to use one of the boat’s fridge as a floating device to get out of the cold water.
But from his experience at sea, Kirwan knew that would bring unwanted trouble.
“Tobago full of shark, and we didn’t want to get the scent of fish (from the fridge) on us or act up ourselves to waste energy or attract dangerous fish.”
Two hours later, the lights of The Siem Spearfish heading in their direction brought tremendous relief, and left the men thanking God for sparing their lives. The men were given clean clothes on the vessel, which was reportedly in TT waters while under contract with a local company.
They were taken to the Port of Scarborough where Emergency Medical Services treated them. Frederick was also deemed to be okay. The men were taken to a guest house for the night.
Frederick told his crewmates he had decided to become a Christian as a result of the experience.
Kirwan told Newsday he thanked God for the events of that morning which had “led another soul to serve Him.”