To the Editor:
I believe that no one wants to be the victim of incompetence. Incompetence can be inconvenient; incompetence can be annoying; incompetence can be dangerous. Incompetence on the sea is reprehensible. I wish to relate an example of incompetence on the sea.
On the morning of Thursday, January 17th, the Administration of San Pedro Roman Catholic Elementary School arranged for a boat to take teachers to a Belize Teachers Union meeting in Belize City. The boat was incompetently serviced. With over thirty passengers aboard, it stalled five times on the trip from San Pedro to Belize City.
The teachers were to return to San Pedro at 4:30 pm. When they arrived at the dock, a crew member was asked if this was the same boat that brought them to Belize City. The answer was affirmative. The next question was: Has the crew spent the afternoon repairing the engine. The answer was “No.”
Barely fifteen minutes underway- near St. George’s Caye- the boat’s motor quit for good. The thirty or so passengers were left adrift in a very rough sea and approaching darkness. Waves were splashing over the gunnels, and I called the Coast Guard. After several questions, the Coast Guard man asked to speak to the captain. I handed the captain my phone, and he angrily declared that he would not talk to the Coast Guard. An administrator from RC Elementary took my phone, and speaking into it said, “There is no problem here. A boat is on the way.”
Long after dark, a second boat did arrive, and after many dangerous maneuvers, came close enough to let passengers- stressfully, considering the high seas, move from the disabled boat to the other. After a dispute among crew involving what would be the right way to get the boat in the dark back to the proper channel toward San Pedro was resolved, the trip continued without mishap. The boat docked in San Pedro at a little after seven o’clock at night, two and a half hours after it left Belize City.
A dispassionate and civilized word to describe the inconvenience, the annoyance and the danger to the passengers of a boat so inadequately prepared for its promised conveyance is “incompetence.” Had the Coast Guards men arrived when they should have and assessed the situation as they should have, they might have used a different adjective to describe the boat’s proprietors and crew: criminal.