Couple Remembers Tragic Voyage
Eight years ago, Police Constable 2084 Prince Dean met the woman who would become his wife aboard the Sea Hauler mail boat during an August Monday excursion to Cat Island.
Those were the happy days.
Today, Mr. Dean and his wife, Paulette, still struggle with the memories of the tragedy that marred their lives nearly one year ago.
Ever since the meeting, the couple has been taking the annual excursion in observance of the special anniversary. But this year, there will be no joy ride, as there had been none last August 2, when the mail boat collided with the United Star barge off Eleuthera.
It was a tragedy of immense proportions, which resulted in the deaths of two sisters (Mrs. Dean’s cousins), a man and a teenage boy. The accident also left many injured, including the Deans.
Mrs. Dean, who worked as a cook before the collision, now walks with a cane. The accident left her with a broken hip and pelvis, and in many ways, a broken heart.
She was asleep in the back of the boat in the early morning hours of August 2 when the vessels collided. She was pinned beneath the Sea Hauler’s railing on the same side of the vessel where a crane had fallen, trapping some of the victims.
“I was there for five hours, couldn’t do anything for myself,” says a teary-eyed Mrs. Dean. “So I just asked my husband to put my head in his lap and let me stay there and I just kept my eyes closed because he started to tell me about everybody who got hurt and my friend who was on the boat with me, she got seriously hurt too.
“I was just so scared and emotional and I told him ‘don’t tell me anymore’.”
She says around 5:30 that morning, a group of men came and lifted the side of the boat off her.
“When they were lifting me from the Sea Hauler onto the United Star, that’s when I took a look back and was able to just see blood and bodies lying out on the ground,” Mrs. Dean recalls.
Mr. Dean says he was also scared.
“But I had to stay close by her until I received that assistance from others,” he says. “It really shook me. To know that she didn’t have any feeling from her waist down, I still felt threatened about that because I didn’t know if my wife would have been able to walk again.”
Mrs. Dean’s words are barely audible as she speaks of the life she now lives as a result of the tragedy.
“I have trouble walking and sitting down,” says a sobbing Mrs. Dean.
The couple says the financial burden has been tremendous in the wake of the collision.
“It’s been very hard, but I try and do my best,” says Mr. Dean, who told the Journal he has been travelling on mail boats since he was a boy. “I have to trust in Jehovah God who helped me to go on with my life doing my best to support my family.”
The two have eight children and mounting bills.
Mrs. Dean says since she is not now able to work, the stress on her husband has been tremendous, particularly since he still suffers terrible backaches as a result of the accident.
“It wasn’t our fault that the accident happened, so I think that we should be compensated for it,” she says. “I got thrown back in my financial situation, in dealing with my younger children. It put a heavy strain on me and I have to rely on everything from my husband and that is very stressful.
“I have to deal with stress, with different bills piling up on us and I know my husband cannot afford all of them.”
Theirs is undoubtedly a story of survival.
Through their struggles, they still celebrate life as they remember those who did not make it off the Sea Hauler alive.
“I want to say I’m sorry,” Mrs. Dean says, directing her words to the family of the victims. “They have my deepest sympathy.”
She also has words of advice for persons who plan to travel aboard boats to the Family Islands.
“I was travelling on the Sea Hauler for over 13 years,” she says. “The boat became so safe to us, we never paid any attention to it, to find out if people who are going to be behind the wheel are qualified. My advice is to be careful and make sure that the persons who are behind the wheel are qualified.”
Mr. Dean adds, “I’m going to pass on this one this year, but by the strength of God I will be making a trip down to Cat Island next year, but by plane.”