The owner of two boats destroyed by fire in Edgewater, Massade, Gros Islet early Saturday morning (July 19), believes the incident was no accident.
Earl Lionel told St. Lucia News Online in an exclusive today that he believes the attack was in retaliation for a complaint he made to the Port Authority last Monday about unlicensed jet ski operators in the Rodney Bay area.
The 52-year-old claimed port officers took action the same day of the complaint.
Lionel, who has been in the boating business since 1979, is convinced that someone tipped off one of the illegal operators about his complaint to the Port Authority.
Lionel said he has no problem with competition but the illegal operators not only cut profits from legitimate businesses, but they also put a negative light on the industry.
He said some of the complaints received are that jet skis are riding too close to yachts, speeding in the marina, “doing 360s”, and riding too close to the beach, among others. He said legal operators are taught professional and security guidelines for use of their vessels, unlike illegal operators.
“There are not there when the problems happen,” he said.
Lionel said on Friday he was approached by a man who cursed him.
“He was saying a lot of different things to me, but I didn’t say anything to him…. The next day my boats were burned,” he said.
Lionel, who lives at his boat yard, said he was sleeping when he was awoken by an explosion at about 5 a.m.
“When I got up, I came out and I saw the boat was on fire… One boat was on fire and then later the other one caught on fire,” he said, adding that the boats were tied together.
Looking outside from his balcony, Lionel noticed something suspicious.
“I saw two guys moving off outside the marina – just after the boom – on a pirogue (small boat),” he noted.
“They poured gas inside (the boat) and put it on fire.”
The businessman tried to extinguish the flames using a “small hose” until fire officers arrived.
However, despite everyone’s best efforts, the boats were damaged beyond repair.
Lionel lost “Marie”, a 42-foot sports-fishing vessel he bought five years ago. It was valued at about $180,000 USD.
Also lost was a 37-foot yacht Lionel bought only three weeks ago. Valued at about $50,000 USD, Lionel said he was planning to repair the boat and use it for cruises to Soufriere. He had also planned to rename it “Joy”.
None of the boats were insured.
Lionel noted that he was planning to service the larger boat before renewing the insurance, closer to the winter tourist season.
“It’s a really big loss,” he said.
But Lionel’s troubles did not start there. Less than nine hours before the boat fire, he was involved a motor vehicle accident as he was about to enter the main road from the Edgewater junction (near Bank of St. Lucia) at about 8: 45 p.m. Friday.
A Gros Islet Polyclinic ambulance, driving in the northbound lane, ran into the front of his vehicle, damaging the bumper and bulbs.
“The ambulance got right off,” he said.
Lionel escaped unhurt. He said it was his first accident since he began driving about 25 years ago.
But two strokes of what he called bad luck is hurting him emotionally and financially right now.
“This situation shake me up this morning. I am trying to keep myself busy so that I don’t think about it too much. I was driving today and I don’t know why I driving,” he said.
Asked what action he plans to take, Lionel said: “I am looking for justice in the right way. I have gone to the police…. I am going through some hard times right now but I will let the police do their proper investigations. I leave it up to the police.”
Police are investigating the fire.