Mob loots boats washed ashore in USVI during storm


By Daniel Shea
The Virgin Islands Daily News

ST CROIX, USVI (MCT) — Two boats that snapped loose and washed ashore in the US Virgin Islands during Monday’s storm experienced the worst of the damage after the winds and the waves had died down, when they were set upon by a storm of people, officials said.

Three USVI Fire Service units responded to Marley Beach about 10 pm Tuesday to find a multilevel cabin cruiser engulfed in flames, said St Croix Fire Chief Steve Brow.

"They had to really douse it good, because they used 6,200 gallons of water," Brow said. "I guess because of the fiberglass material and how deep it was burning."

A second boat — a sailboat about 40 feet long, with a large gash in its hull and the keel ripped off by the sharp rocks — washed ashore about 200 yards south of the grounded cabin cruiser. The sailboat’s owner, David Parker, left the vessel before it was beached ashore and returned to find much of the equipment stripped and the rest of the boat looted.

"It hadn’t been that long, and the boat was stripped," said Barbara Schindler, who helped Parker salvage the boat’s winches. Schindler was at the boat Wednesday, salvaging some other gear with the owner’s permission, she said.

Around the boat, lifejackets and fiberglass were strewn across the beach. Cabinets and panels were ripped out. Thousands of dollars in solar panels were looted, Schindler said.

Kids had been seen boarding and vandalizing both grounded boats Tuesday.

Parker had come down to St. Croix from St. Thomas to wait out Hurricane Earl, but he chose the wrong spot, Schindler said.

Schindler normally has her sailboat on a mooring just south of the Frederiksted pier but moved her boat to Salt River’s protected mangroves Sunday in preparation for the storm, she said. The West End was the worst place during the storm, but Parker did not realize it until it was too late.

"He couldn’t get his anchor up," Schindler said. "He was just able to get off the boat with his two pups in his dingy."

Enforcement officers from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources were on both scenes investigating the incidents Wednesday.

DPNR Enforcement Officer Howard Forbes said he spoke with Parker, who told him he would have a crew down to start clearing the boat from the beach today.

"We will have DPNR officers to monitor the work to make sure it’s by the book," Forbes said.

Parker will have to get a crane to lift the boat onto a flatbed, or the cleanup crew will have to employ the use of booms to make sure the fiberglass does not float away, Forbes said.

The boat’s engine was sitting in 20 feet of water. But there were no leakage problems that Forbes knew of, he said.

Parker told Schindler that his boat was insured, she said.

While reports were out that two firearms were stolen off the boat, V.I. Police spokeswoman Melody Rames said their investigation gave "no indication there were any firearms on the boat."

The burned-out hull of the other boat still was smoldering after 12 hours had passed. The remains were covered in a foam that was applied by firefighters Wednesday morning, Brow said.

Forbes said the boat was stolen out of Puerto Rico eight months ago and found off St. Croix completely stripped down. The owners came down in June to check the boat’s condition, but DPNR has been unable to contact the owners since the boat washed ashore.

Any costs in clearing the boat will be incurred by the boat’s owners, said DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen.

Wayne Petersen lives across from the beach in Marley housing community and said he heard a loud, low-frequency explosion just before 10 p.m.

"I heard the snap, crackle and pop, and then it flared up," Petersen said. "It burned up pretty quickly."

The burning of the fiberglass was "very toxic," Forbes said.

Firefighters worked for close to an hour and a half to control the blaze, Brow said. The investigation into what caused the fire is ongoing.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Virgin Islands Daily News, St. Thomas
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