Emergency responders evacuated 98 passengers and four crew members from the Royal Miss Belmar, above.
The last night of St. John Festival was halted — for only a few moments for some, but for the year for others — on Monday night, July 4, when a ferry was reported hard aground on rocks just off Great St. James Island.
The Royal Miss Belmar was carrying 98 passengers — ranging in age from five months to more than 80 years — and four crew members when it disembarked from Cruz Bay dock after the Festival fireworks ended on Monday night, July 4.
The 89-foot ferry was en route to St. Croix and only traveled a few minutes out of Cruz Bay harbor before slamming onto rocks on the northeastern shore of Great St. James Island.
Officials stopped the thumping music at Wadesville Festival Village around 10 p.m. in order to make an announcement asking for emergency responders to help with the rescue effort.
With that the music came back and the dance floor filled again with revelers while a team of St. John Rescue (SJR) officials sprung into action.
A crew of SJR emergency responders spent the rest of the night ferrying all 104 people on board — some even on stretchers — over the ferry’s aft gunwale and down about eight feet to a life raft tied to the stern of the vessel.
The rescue effort would have been tricky enough in daylight, but the emergency came in the pitch dark of night in rough seas and high winds, according to emergency responders.
Miss Belmar on the tip of Great St. James Cay.
First responders conducted triage at the Red Hook Marine Terminal and helped ferry passengers to waiting vessels throughout the night. The final passengers were evacuated from the Royal Miss Belmar to safety around 5:30 a.m.
Although five of the passengers — including one baby — sustained injuries, none of the reported injuries were critical, according to U.S Coast Guard spokesperson Ricardo Castrodad.
“This rescue was possible due to the swift and quick response of Coast Guard boat crews, local emergency responders and Good Samaritan vessels on scene, who aggressively worked throughout the night to safely remove all 102 people from the grounded vessel,” said USCG Captain Marc Stegman, Sector San Juan acting commander, in a prepared statement. “The passengers remained calm and allowed first responders to successfully transfer them to safety.”
The vessel was not taking on water, but was high up on the rocks — prompting several emergency responders to determine the vessel was travelling at a high rate of speed when it just about hit the island — and was still hard aground as of press time.
USCG response and prevention personnel, including marine and pollution investigators, were expected to continue working with the vessel owner and local authorities to coordinate the removal and salvage of the vessel, investigate the cause of the grounding and determine if there were signs of pollution in the water.
USCG Watchstanders in Sector San Juan received a 911 call at 10:05 p.m. July 4 from a U.S. Virgin Islands emergency operator and a radio call from the master of the Royal Miss Belmar notifying the ongoing distress.
SJR is a non-profit run entirely by volunteers and relying on donations, which can be made to St. John Rescue Inc. and mailed to P.O. Box 1225, St. John, VI, 00830.