THE AUTHORITIES could be doing a discredit to the nation's ports by tolerating the absence, for an extended period, of fire boats at ports islandwide.
All three fire boats serving Jamaican ports are in disrepair, leaving the coastal areas without fire-fighting facilities.
This situation has elicited words of caution and reprimand from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) and the cruiseship committee of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Under international maritime laws, it is not a mandatory requirement for ports to have fire boats, but shipping experts agree that the presence of a fire boat "boosts the image of any port", which has to facilitate traffic in cargo and cruiseships.
In the case of Kingston Harbour, the world seventh largest harbour, the Fire boat, Erif II, has been down for four months. Checks by The Gleaner reveal that it is at the dry dock in Harbour View, East Kingston, where the finishing touches of repairs to the vessel is being carried out.
Pointing out that it will cost "in the region of $1 million" to correct the leaking and engine troubles dogging the Erif II, Superintendent Denroy Lewis, Chief of Operations for the Kingston and St. Andrew Division of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, said he envisages that the boat will be back in operation within a fortnight. He said "the hull of the boat needs to be repaired to stop a minor leak, and barnacles need to be removed from the hull."
He also said that long before the boat broke down last December, the engines required overhauling because of recurring problems. However, he said "financial constraints have caused delays in repairing the vessel".
In Ocho Rios, firefighters have also been battling with boat problems for several years, and there seems to be no quick fix to their worries. Reports from the Ocho Rios Fire Station are that the fireboat there has been malfunctioning for the last three years, but it conked out completely some six months ago.
District officer Realto Williams, who is in charge of the Ocho Rios fire boat, says not only the engines, but the entire structure of the boat needs extensive repairs. He says the maintenance department of the Jamaica Fire Brigade is spearheading repairs to the boat, which is slated to go to the dry dock this week.
During January, firefighters in Ocho Rios suffered a major embarrassment as a pleasure boat went up in flames in the harbour when the fire boat was not functioning. When the fire occurred, the world's largest cruiseship, Navigator of the Seas, carrying more than 3,000 passengers, was also docked at the Ocho Rios Pier. Firemen who rushed to the scene used foam from a fire truck to put out the blaze.
The tourist capital of Montego Bay is in no better position when it comes to fighting fires by sea. Word from Senior Deputy Superintendent Allan Goodwill, in charge of the St. James Fire Department, is that the boat in Montego Bay has been "malfunctioning for six months".
According to him, "things really took a turn for the worst three months ago when one of the engines went out. I can't say when repairs on the boat will begin, but it is scheduled to go to dry dock soon," Deputy. Supt. Goodwill said.
In the meantime, the JHTA is warning the Government that foot dragging in correcting the inadequacies plaguing the fire fighting capabilities of the country could make Jamaica less desirable as a destination. "We see too many situations where firefighting equipment is woefully inadequate in tourist areas and outside of tourist areas," the association said.
The Government is also getting some flack from David Lindo, chairman of the cruiseship committee of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce. "I feel the Government is just too slow in addressing the blatant needs of the fire boats and the fire department in general," Mr. Lindo said in an interview with The Gleaner.
"While most cruiseships are equipped with extensive firefighting capabilities, the Government needs to do much more to ensure if fire breaks out at ports or anywhere along the coast, the lives of foreigners and locals will not be in jeopardy," Mr. Lindo added. "It is taking just too long to get the fire boats working."