Docks of Despair

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Kerwin Cae­sar

Con­sider this for a mo­ment: imag­ine that your daily rou­tines and every­day trans­ac­tions are only ob­tain­able through cross­ing a rick­ety wooden plank bridge. Now think of this pas­sage­way as your soli­tary means to ob­tain­ing a liv­ing and con­duct­ing business. Not the ideal sit­u­a­tion is it? But that’s the fate which the fish­er­men of the com­mu­nity of Praslin are now faced with.

Many of the fish­ing vil­lages across the is­land boast proper docks with welle­quipped fa­cil­i­ties in­clud­ing locker rooms in which the fish­er­men store their fish­ing gear and sup­plies. Th­ese docks also of­fer de­pots where they sell their catch to the Saint Lu­cia Fish Mar­ket­ing Cor­po­ra­tion; gas pumps for ob­tain­ing fuel; and also ice ma­chines for those who pre­fer to go out and vend.

For the fish­er­men of Praslin it is not so. They have to tra­verse two wooden, un­sta­ble and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing piers or “jet­ties” to ac­cess their fish­ing boats when ven­tur­ing out to sea and are forced to use locker rooms bat­tered and abused by Mother Na­ture.

Th­ese jet­ties, rav­aged by the seas for about three decades, are long over­due a re­place­ment. So much so that the fish­er­men have been slip­ping through the boards and in­jur­ing them­selves. Just re­cently, a young fish­er­man re­turn­ing from a day at sea, went through one of the weak boards dam­ag­ing his left thigh mus­cle in the process. Over the years, gov­ern­ments have come and gone, like­wise their prom­ises to con­struct a new dock in the com­mu­nity, but the out­come has al­ways been the same: tem­po­rary re­pairs to the wooden struc­tures by the fish­er­men them­selves.

I re­cently spoke to the man who built the very first jetty in the area, 75-year-old Mathew Fer­di­nand, a for­mer fish­er­man, boat builder and baker, who is now a kitchen gar­dener. Fer­di­nand built the jetty in the 1980s and ex­plained that he saw it as a ne­ces­sity.

“Be­ing that the area is a fish­ing vil­lage and me be­ing a fish­er­man at the time, I needed it too,” Fer­di­nand said. He con­fessed how­ever that mem­bers of the com­mu­nity called him crazy when he ven­tured upon con­struct­ing the jetty, claim­ing that he was of­ten ridiculed as they thought that he was un­able to build one.

“I was the only one who did ev­ery­thing. I sawed the trees to ob­tain the wood, I car­ried them to the sea­side and built the jetty on my own.”

Ac­cord­ing to Fer­di­nand, the jetty took him about four months to build. By the early 90s, with it be­ing used con­stantly by all of the fish­er­men, it needed to be built stronger. The au­thor­i­ties promised to work on the jetty, to build a bet­ter one but that never hap­pened.

MP for the area Dr. Gale Rigob­ert says that she has raised the is­sue of the jetty ever since she be­came the par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “Be­cause of my en­gage­ment with the fish­er­men, they high­lighted it as one of their key pri­or­i­ties, along with their locker rooms which are badly di­lap­i­dated. And of course, I have seen for my­self, I have been to the site, I have made the plea, ask­ing that the gov­ern­ment pay at­ten­tion to this as it was one of the is­sues that I high­lighted.

“In our fis­cal year 2012/2013 in par­lia­ment, the bud­get es­ti­mates re­flected that we had got­ten within the re­gion of a mil­lion dol­lars to erect a jetty at Sa­vannes Bay and in Praslin, and I thank the Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­ture, Moses “Musa” Jn Bap­tiste for con­sid­er­ing Praslin and re­spond­ing to my call for as­sis­tance. In the first week Fe­bru­ary of this year, I had a con­ver­sa­tion with the prime min­is­ter and the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter again in­quir­ing as to the state of the jetty and whether we are pro­ceed­ing with the project be­cause the money had been bud­geted and as far as I was con­cerned had been re­ceived from the Tai­wanese as well. He ad­vised me that, in fact, he had en­gaged some fish­er­men and that con­sid­er­a­tion was be­ing given to the ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign,” Rigob­ert ex­plained.

She con­tin­ued: “Dur­ing this bud­get de­bate I again asked, I said, ‘Cu­ri­ously, last year I stood here and I thanked the gov­ern­ment for the jetty and one year on there is no jetty. And yet again we have another “prom­is­sory note”. Be­cause last year I ex­pressed my thanks and this year I’m not sure that I should pro­ceed thank­ing again, with the jetty still not yet be­ing de­liv­ered.’

“I am con­cerned that though the money would’ve been sourced and had, that I hardly an­tic­i­pate a jetty com­ing to be. I find it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that it takes all of 14 or 15 months for the project to come into be­ing. Even I ini­ti­ated dis­cus­sions with an en­gi­neer and in no time he had given me a full fea­si­bil­ity study and ev­ery­thing con­cern­ing the work, and clearly this is mov­ing at a snail’s pace.”

To this date, none of the fish­ing vil­lages within the Mi­coud dis­trict have ad­e­quate fish­ing fa­cil­i­ties; the fish­er­men of Mi­coud proper still walk into the murky wa­ters on morn­ings to ac­cess their ves­sels, as their boats are be­ing an­chored in the bay.

Mean­while, the sea­men of the Praslin area be­come more skep­ti­cal and pes­simistic about this ini­tia­tive and con­tinue to won­der how many of them are to get in­jured; or must dis­as­ter strike be­fore they can re­ceive a proper fa­cil­ity?

One of the de­plorable jet­ties which the fish­er­men of Praslin use ev­ery day.

Mathew Fer­di­nand, builder of the very first

jetty in Praslin.

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