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by Stevenson Manners

On this journey to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the sinking of the M V Christena, we interviewed 51 persons, including many survivors. What was amazing was the varying perspectives of the survivors, of the same event. I have processed it all, over a six-month period, over and over again. As you may know, the Government of St. Kitts & Nevis conducted a Commission of Inquiry in August and September of 1970, with sessions on both St. Kitts and Nevis. At its conclusion, Justice J D B Renwick could not determine definitively the cause of the disaster. Many theories were advanced, then and now: obeah, sabotage, fate, overcrowding and open manholes. I firmly believe that information shared by survivor, Wyclide Wilson Condell of Hermitage, Nevis, holds the key. Condell, now 82, was then a young welder at the St. Kitts Sugar Factory, and worked on the Christena on Thursday, July 30 – its last maintenance day. With tears in his eyes, he told us that he regrets to this day, not informing the authorities what he saw on that Thursday. The boat was already taking in water, and the crew had borrowed a pump from the Factory (the boat’s pump was faulty), but returned it the Friday, even though the problem persisted. Devon ‘Lord Kut’ Liburd told us that he had travelled on the Christena from age 3, and always on the lower deck. That fateful Saturday, however, was the first time, he travelled on the upper deck, and had moved there because he had been standing knee-deep in water in the stern of the boat. He said most people were on the upper deck, which was not the norm. The recent video release by USVI-based Kittitian calypsonian The Mighty Pat, for me, has put the most likely theory, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Dr. Whitman T. Browne, wrote in his book ‘The Christena Disaster Revisited’ (2000) p 103, that “Wyclide is one of the few persons who arrived at a reasonable conclusion as to why the Christena sank. He is a welder at the factory, and the Thursday before the sinking had worked on the ferry. Wyclide concluded that the vacuum chambers were not properly sealed, and that the pump was not working to get rid of the gathering water. He said, the second engineer, who died, was downstairs trying to start the pump.”For me, the real cause of the worst maritime disaster in the history of the English-speaking Caribbean, is no longer in doubt.The M V Christena sank stern first (which all survivors confirm), because of a faulty pump, exacerbated by overcrowding. Manholes had not been sealed. For Condell, the pain is even more deep-seated because he lost his mother Irene Condell, 12-year-old sister Christine Condell ,11-year-old nephew and his cousin Anthony Condell.

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