NOT FIT TO SAIL: 4C’s home-built boat never inspected; First mate in disaster was owner’s 12-year-old son


Tribune Staff Reporter

THE Exuma tour company involved in a deadly boat explosion that killed a woman and injured ten others in June broke the law by operating a boat that was neither registered nor ever inspected by the Port Authority, the Bahamas Maritime Authority revealed yesterday.

The verdict about Four C’s Adventures was in the BMA’s report on the Exuma incident, which was released during a press conference yesterday.

“Under no circumstances” should Four C’s have operated the “craft on a commercial basis,” investigators wrote in their report.

Among the findings were that the home-built boat’s “fuel-fill and vent hose did not appear to meet the required specification for its intended purpose; the craft had not been constructed to a recognised standard, or to naval architectural or technical drawings; and the craft’s construction and equipment materials were not verified for suitability of use.”

Investigators also concluded that the Port Department of Exuma has not been “adequately resourced to control and regulate commercial water crafts operating on the island,” noting in their report that a “significant number of commercial crafts operating within the waters of Exuma are not registered with the Port Department despite having submitted valid applications. The mechanical, structural, and safety standards required to be met cannot be verified.”

The exact cause of the boat’s explosion could not be determined because the damage the vessel sustained was too great.

The explosion scenario could not be reconstructed because of absent “technical drawings, electrical circuit diagram and a schematic of the permanently installed fuel system,” the report said.

Nevertheless, investigators determined with a “high degree of probability” that the explosion originated “in the proximity of the starboard fuel tank resulting in the release of a last wave on the starboard side, beneath the front three rows of seats.”

The captain of the boat, a 42-year-old man, had a valid master’s licence. The first mate on the vessel was a 12-year-old boy, the son of Four C’s owner, and had no “qualifications or endorsements.” It is not unlawful to have a minor as a first mate.

Denise Lewis-Johnson, chairman of the BMA, said the authority’s investigation reports are provided with the understanding that they will “not be used as evidence in any legal proceedings anywhere in the world.” The aim of the reports is to prevent marine casualties and incidents, she said. 

Investigators recommended that officials amend the Commercial Recreational Watercraft Act to require that all self-built boats undergo “survey by a recognised organisation to verify the boat’s seaworthiness” and all owners of self-built boats submit construction plans for approval by a recognised organisation for compliance with all current applicable safety standards before construction.

Four C’s was issued a cease and desist order in July and could not operate pending the conclusion of the investigation. Yesterday, Transport Minister Renward Wells told The Tribune the order is still in place. It is not clear what the future holds for the tour company, the largest of its kind in Exuma. Mr Wells said he received the BMA’s report the same time the media did, adding: “We wanted it to be free and independent and that required I not know much that was going on.”

He said he will take the report to Cabinet and expects the Office of the Attorney General to be involved in what happens next. 

Four C’s owner, Patterson Smith, told this newspaper yesterday that he has not seen the report.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll have something to say but I just don’t know what it will be yet because I haven’t seen it,” he said. His lawyer, Elliot Lockhart, had no comment when contacted by The Tribune for his reaction.

A Georgia woman, Maleka Jackson, was killed in the June 30 accident. Among the ten other people injured were Tiran Jackson, Mrs Jackson’s husband who lost, a leg and Stefanie Schaffer, a 22-year-old woman from Vermont who had both of her legs amputated.