The Shocking Story of Simpson Bay and Why Something Must Be Done Immediately

Incompetence can often go unnoticed until the moment when performance is a must. Either unnoticed or simply accepted as how things are, but you see the point. Life can bump along with terrible leadership in place as long as nothing goes terribly awry.

The moment things go wrong, right at that crucial time when you need leadership and guidance more than ever, is exactly when you’ll wish you did something about it. Complacency is indeed the devil’s work and if you take the time to look around, you’ll see it exists in more places than it should.

This is all one long way of saying, before you can fix a problem, you have to identify it. The key, therefore, to fixing any problem is in identification. It’s having the will, the desire, and the fortitude to seek the best outcome in any situation, and then doing what has to be done in order to position that situation for the greatest likelihood of success.

Hurricane Irma is precisely one example of a situation, extreme as it may be, where a lack in identifying and fixing a problem has led to failure.

On October 2, 2017, the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation released the results of an assessment that was performed to measure the environmental impact of Hurricane Irma. You can read the complete report here. As you can imagine, it identified a number of significant environmental impacts from the storm, not the least of which was the impact to Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Estimated fuel spilled in the Simpson Bay Lagoon exceeds 200,000 gallons and is still being leaked. The Nature Foundation has contacted the authorities regarding this but to date little assistance has been provided. The Nature Foundation is concerned that the lasting impacts of the fuel spill will have on the environment and public health of Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten Nature Foundation

That quote says just about all you need to know about the status of Simpson Bay following the storm. Of all the destruction waged by Irma, she laid to waste what amounts to an extremely vital natural and economic area of the island. Simpson Bay hosts thousands of tourists each year and is home to many hotels, restaurants and bars that help drive the local economy.

Knowing how important Simpson Bay is to the island, it’s well within reason to suggest that all possible measures should have been taken as soon as possible to help cure the intense damage caused by the storm. Only that’s not what has happened so far.

At the beginning of October, a barge that was equipped with a 150 ton crane, capable of lifting 3-5 boats from Simpson Bay Lagoon every day, made it’s way to Sint Maarten. And then they waited. For over three weeks the barge sat, lifting only one boat from the lagoon before being told to stop by the government of Sint Maarten.

The issue at hand was that the boat apparently did not have the proper permits to operate. And during normal times, when up to 30,000 gallons of fuel wasn’t in the process of leaking into the lagoon, these requirements would at least resemble common sense. But there comes a time when rules and technicalities put in place to govern daily life must be circumvented to prevent catastrophic environmental damage to one of the most important parts of the island.

Although the Foundation has been involved in some preliminary work in the Simpson Bay Lagoon it is estimated that some 30,000 gallons of fuel and wastewater is being leaked into the environment. Sint Maarten Nature Foundation via The Daily Herald

Unfortunately, common sense didn’t prevail. And, believe me when I say, I would love to speculate right here and now as to why exactly that was. Instead, we’ll state the obvious, that this was entirely the fault of the government, led by Prime Minister William Marlin, which has allowed this to happen.

Not only were permits never issued to allow cleanup work to begin, the government actually sent in armed authorities to demand that the boat leave the island. Jeff Boyd, President of Marine Management and Consuluting, sent a letter to members of Parliament to express his anger and frustration.

We take it that your response came in the form of the boarding of the salvage equipment (barge and crane from the Bahamas) which formed part of the subject matter, by the coast guard, carrying automatic weapons with members of the maritime authority, and [telling them] to leave at once. Jeff Boyd of Marine Management and Consulting

And leave, they did.

One day after the barge left Simpson Bay, the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation again reported on the dire situation of Simpson Bay, calling for urgent action.

Tadzio Bervoets, Manager of the Nature Foundation noted, “While we understand the need to have everything in place we are urging for salvage works to start soon before the situation gets worse. Our request for assistance has largely been unanswered and we now are dependent on commercial salvage operators to clean up the wrecks. We are therefore urging that all technicalities and requirements be handled and the necessary permits be fast-tracked.”

So now we sit and wait. The real question here is what exactly are we waiting for? Certainly, we’re not waiting for an environmental disaster to come along before something gets done, because if there is one thing that is clear it’s that that has already transpired.

Perhaps the answer is a shake up within the government and Parliament itself. Of course, with the recent news that the government has agreed to the Dutch conditions for relief funding, along with a realignment within Parliament and the coalitions, it seems like that may already be happening.

Whatever it takes, something must be done soon to clean up Simpson Bay.

Please help rebuild SXM and give today. Click here to visit the SXM Strong donate page. Thank you!

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Jon Ferlise

I fell in love with the island of Saint Martin the first time I visited to celebrate my 40th birthday in May of 2009. Since then, I've spent most birthdays there, and have visited countless other times getting to know this wonderful place and the friendly locals that make it so special. I adore the culture, the people, the community, and the beauty of this stunning island. SXM Strong is a website that I started to support humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Irma. There was no plan, it just evolved as I witnessed the devastation that Irma caused the island and the huge need to communicate and disseminate information about what had happened and how people could help support this island and its people.

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