Ships 2


Ships 3

Overloaded Haitian Ferry Neptune Claimed An Estimated 1,500


By James Donahue


They said it was just a rain squall that sank the rusty old ferry Neptune but the overloaded 150-foot vessel foundered off the southern peninsula of Haiti during the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 1993, taking over 1,000 souls to a watery death.


An estimated 300 more passengers and crew members survived, many of them floating to shore alive or being rescued at sea.


Captain Benjamin St. Clair, master of the ferry, survived by clinging to wreckage and floating ashore. He said the boat started taking on water in the driving rain and passengers panicked. He said they began shifting back and forth, rocking the packed the top-heavy three-decker vessel, causing it to capsize.


Another report by survivors said the ferry was rolling in the seas during the storm which caused the people to panic. They said the ship sank after the top deck caved in from the weight of so many people.


The disaster occurred while the Neptune was on an overnight 180-mile trip from the remote town of Jeremie to Port-au-Prince.


Officials said about 800 tickets were sold to passengers, but it was believed many more people crowded the rickety old boat . . . possibly up to 2,000. Because of political unrest in Haiti and the number of hijacked vessels by people attempting to escape to the United States, the Neptune had been idled for weeks. They said the vessel was unusually crowded because of the pent-up demand.


The ferry also was loaded with cargo including agricultural produce, livestock and large stacks of charcoal.


Most roads in Haiti are unusable, and there is little fuel available for small aircraft, so ferries like the Neptune were Jeremie’s only serviceable link with the rest of the country.


“No one will ever know how many people were aboard that boat,” one official said. “But I have never seen it so full of people.”


The communications in the region were so poor that word of the disaster did not reach Port-au-Prince until hours later. The first clue came as bodies began washing up on beaches and survivors began coming ashore about 60 miles west of the capital.


Some of the survivors said they clung to the floating carcasses of drowned cattle while others hung onto bags of coconuts that floated off the ship.


If the estimated numbers of the dead are correct, this was among the worst ferry disasters to have occurred in world history, surpassed only by the collision that sank the Dona Paz off the Philippines in 1987.