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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, July 17, 2024


May 6, 2002 – A National Park Service economist will put a price tag on the damage caused by the Tortola-based ferry boat Voyager Eagle when it went aground April 7 on Johnson's Reef.
V.I. National Park Superintendent John King said Monday that the economist inputs damage data into a computer program to come up with how much the ferry company, Native Son Inc., will be assessed for damages. He said the economist and a National Park Service case damage officer will arrive for a two-day stay on Tuesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard is continuing its investigation of the incident, Lt. John Reinert said Monday, but can provide no details until its report is released.
The Voyager Eagle captain, Renel Lee Chalwell, received tickets from the park for negligent operation and striking an underwater feature in park waters but has not yet been to U.S. District Court on the matter, King said.
King said Chalwell, told park rangers that he was going through a heavy squall and had low visibility when the boat hit the reef. "He was in the wrong place. He was in a marked-off area," King said.
According to King, the captain initially told the rangers that he could see the buoy that marked the reef out his port — or left — side window, but later changed his story to indicate the buoy was on the starboard — or right — side of the boat. If the buoy was off his port side, the boat would have been directly over the reef. Buoys mark the outer limits of the reef.
Since Chalwell has been navigating area waters for a long time, King said, he should have known where he was.
He said that his staff has just about finished evaluating the substantial damage to the reef. "They have started restoration work," he said. He said that fragments of elkhorn coral broken off in the accident have been reattached in a transplant procedure.
The 85-foot Voyager Eagle went aground around on its way from St. Thomas to Tortola. The 33 passengers on board were transferred to another Native Son boat, the Oriole, and taken on to Tortola. After extensive efforts to remove the Voyager Eagle from the reef proved fruitless, heavy seas pushed the vessel seaward and off the reef the next day. The Oriole, which had unsuccessfully tried to pull the Voyager Eagle off the reef, towed the boat home to Tortola.
King said the accident helps to make a case for the park's proposal in its new Vessel Management Plan to make commercial traffic go outside of Johnson's Reef and Whistling Cay. The plan is now under discussion.
Johnson's Reef is located off St. John's North Shore near Trunk Bay.

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