In December 2016, District Constable, Sean Pierre, embarked on a high seas recovery mission, and four years later has been recognised by the Government for his action.
The District Constable, on October 19, 2020 (National Heroes’ Day), received the Badge of Honour for Gallantry, after he and five other crew members fought a raging sea in stormy weather to travel towards Honduras and back, to retrieve a stolen police vessel.
“The police boat had been stolen from a dock in Negril, Westmoreland, 10 months earlier and the Jamaican Authority was notified of its presence in Honduras on a beach,” District Constable Pierre tells JIS News.
He shares that the Jamaican and Honduran governments then began discussing the retrieval of the vessel, which required repairs.
A photo of the 27-foot Boston Whaler Boat which was recovered by District Constable Sean Pierre and five other crew members.
“A team of police officers visited Honduras to assess the most feasible way of bringing the vessel back to Jamaica and it was decided that it would be towed from Honduras by another Jamaican police vessel,” District Constable Pierre says.
He tells JIS News that although the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard is specialised to carry out similar missions, they were unable to provide primary support at that time, so the mission had to be carried out by the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).
“I was in Canada when I received a call from Sergeant Everton Reynolds about being a member of the team to devise and execute the mission to retrieve the vessel. I have never had any reservations about serving my country, so I did not hesitate to make myself available because I knew that the calibre of officers Sergeant Reynolds would recruit would make the mission a success,” Mr. Pierre recalls.
Mr. Pierre has more than 30 years of sailing experience and joined the JCF Marine Division partly because of his expertise. He has served in the JCF for eight years in both capacities.
On December 18, 2016, District Constable Pierre, Deputy Superintendent Gary Chambers, Sergeant Everton Reynolds, Sergeant Nicholas Harrison, Constable S. Serinash and District Constable Basil Fuller, left the safe waters of Jamaica to embark on their mission after weeks of preparation.
“We began the mission at 6:50 p.m. on the Saturday, but left the shore in Negril at 1:30 a.m. on Sunday with a retrieval and standby vessel. The first 12 hours at sea were all good, because we were in territorial waters. We even had the company of a pod of dolphins, which followed our vessels out into the open sea for a while,” District Constable Pierre says.
However, what the six-man crew foresaw as a smooth 24-hour mission, soon became very challenging.
“We had set waypoints because we pre-plotted our course. The waypoints are checkpoints for the main retrieval vessel and the standby vessel to meet up. We had arranged a rendezvous with the Honduran Coast Guard at the Rosalind Bank in the Western Caribbean Sea by midday Sunday. We got there a bit late and they were not there, so we tried reaching them on the radio and we could not get them,” he shares.
The team finally got through to the Honduran vessel at 4:00 p.m. and met them at the Rosalind Bank to conduct the handover.
“We were there drifting from 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. while we waited. This in itself was a rough ordeal as the sun was blazing hot. We did the handover and the necessary documents were signed by both designated government representatives,” Mr. Pierre says.
He recalls how members of the Honduran Coast Guard looked on in amazement, because of the small size of their vessel, which was similar in size to the stolen boat to be towed.
“Several soldiers pulled out their cellphones and were taking photos because they could not believe we had travelled so far to retrieve the boat in an approximately 27 ft. vessel,” he explains.
After Mr. Pierre and his JCF crewmates finished rigging the stolen boat, they then turned their bows to head home but would soon have their marine skills tested like never before.
“We had done marine training with the Coast Guard before the mission and there is always ongoing training, but I’m not sure anything could have mentally prepared us for what we were about to experience. While proceeding back to Jamaica at approximately 7:00 p.m. we encountered two storm systems, one ahead of us and one to the right of our vessels. We immediately began to assess if we should attempt to go around the systems or if we should stay on course and hope the systems blow over,” he shares.
The crew decided to maintain their course and later realised that although both systems were visible, they were quite a distance away. Attempting to go around the systems would have resulted in lost time and wasted fuel.
“Night fell and by the time we had moved closer to the systems, we no longer had the privilege of good visibility. Both systems had now merged, trapping us. From 7:00 p.m. Sunday until 6:00 a.m. Monday morning we were in the storm with howling winds, non-stop torrential rain and rough, choppy waves,” District Constable Pierre says.
Soaked from their heads to their boots, exhausted, cold and hungry, the crew decided to keep watch in three-hour shifts as they rode out the storm.
“I had just finished my shift and was about to rest my feet when I heard a crewmate exclaim. I then alerted my close friend, District Constable Fuller, who had fallen ill in the adverse weather conditions. When we went to inspect what the commotion was about, we realised that all our efforts had become undone, we had lost the stolen boat,” he recounts.
Mr. Pierre notes that this was when tempers flared high as the exhausted crew members tried to wrap their heads around how the retrieved vessel being towed could have been separated from their vessel.
“When we looked from the stern of our boat, all we saw was the broken rope swaying in the water. We were all washed by a sense of panic because we are in the middle of a storm and we knew that there was no way we could return to Jamaica without this vessel,” he explains.
Mr. Pierre says it was Sergeant Nicholas Harrison who pacified the argument that spewed over the lost boat.
The team then decided to use their boat lights to locate the lost boat, which had ‘Police’ written over a light-reflective panel.
“We didn’t travel for more than 15 minutes in the opposite direction with our boat lights on before we sighted the vessel bobbing and weaving with the words police brightly illuminated,” he says.
Mr. Pierre tells JIS News that the relief the team felt was later morphed into concern. After re-rigging the boat’s bridle and riding out the rain, they then faced 30ft-40ft waves and a persistent lightning storm.
While the sky lit up with bolts of lightning, which appeared to kiss the seas, and the heavens roared, the team wished for nothing more than to complete their mission safely.
“Just when we thought the worst had happened, we were now faced with a 30ft wave as wide as a light post turned horizontally. All that ran through my mind was that we could not lose the boat again and we had to ride this wave skillfully because it could cause serious damage to our vessels,” he says.
He explains that miraculously the boat being towed was submerged and thrust forward, creating the inertia needed to propel the main boat forward, while pushing itself over the 30ft by 30ft wave.
“In all my years of going to sea, I had never experienced anything like this before. I have done numerous courses with the Jamaica Coast Guard, such as the Patrol Craft Coxswain (PCC) and Naval Boarding Party (NBP) courses, which I passed with top honours, but not even those mentally prepared me for what I experienced riding that wave,” District Constable Pierre shares.
He highlights that as the team ventured into territorial waters they began to run low on fuel and the Jamaica Coast Guard came and assisted them.
“I had never been so happy to see Jamaican waters. As a member of the security forces, I can withstand unfavourable conditions, but the sea is unpredictable and can be unforgiving. Looking back, this mission was a serious one, but when it comes to safeguarding the nation and its resources, the JCF makes no joke,” Mr. Pierre says.
The District Constable shares that he is humbled to be recognised for his bravery and was privileged to have carried out the mission with the cadre of gallant officers who each made this story worth telling.