The landing craft Emerald Express, with a crew of eight, was on its way from Great Inagua to Fort Lauderdale when it was caught at sea by Hurricane Joaquin on October 1 near Acklins and Crooked Island.
Today the barge is stranded, miles inland on Crooked Island, after the winds and powerful storm surge whipped up by the category four storm, dumped and beached it in a mangrove swamp. For the crew, it was a terrifying experience, helpless at the hands of nature.
While the Emerald Express crew did not see the lost US container ship El Faro, which was about 25 miles ahead of them, they heard the radio conversations between the ship and the US Coast Guard at the height of the storm. Emerald Express tried to call El Faro, but got no answer, but heard them say the crew was about to abandon ship. The El Faro was carrying a cargo of vehicles from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and went down in 15,000 feet of water with the loss of all 33 crew, 28 Americans and five Polish.
“But even if they abandoned that boat by the time they reached the water, the winds and the waves were really so bad that it was going to be really hard for any human being to survive out there on the sea,” said an Emerald Express crew member, who is one of four left as security with the now stranded barge. A seaplane came to pick up four of the crew, some of whom were from Honduras.
The other four will remain until the barge can be removed from Horse Pond, a mangrove swamp, where it was left by the powerful storm surge from Joaquin.
The Emerald Express had two main 750hp engines “that couldn’t work against the 135mph winds,” the crew member told The Tribune.
He added:“The winds just threw us where it wanted to. We decided to go along with the breeze, trying just to balance the boat with the wind so that we didn’t roll over. We floated like two days at sea until we got into shallow water all the way to the other side of Lovely Bay where the boat beached.”
The Emerald Express was thrown up on the shallow creek at Lovely Bay, in which the water had risen to such a height that they thought that they were still on the high seas. They were tossed 21 miles inland to Horse Pond, where the landing craft remains today.
“Coming into the beach was the worst part of all to get over the reef with winds up to 130mph and 20-foot waves. It was not easy for a small boat like this, but when we was in the deep, in the trough of the ocean, we almost rolled over like two or three times. We lost one empty container. That’s when, fearing that we would not make it into land, we started to prepare life jackets and take every emergency to abandon ship. But, thank God, we prayed and thought of what was best for us all, and by His mercy and grace we all are still alive today. Once the weather broke and the waters started to return to the sea we began to see that the boat was settled on dry land.”
Officials from the shipping company and the authorities have been trying to figure out how to get the Emerald Express afloat again. That process will start these days when company representatives and a boat arrive with equipment, including special airbags, which will be used to take her across the island to the sea. The existing road will have to be widened with help from the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (BEC) according to the crew. It is expected it will take a month to get the Emerald Express back to the water.
The Emerald Express was built in 2001 and flies the Panamanian flag. It is operated by G-G Marine.