Duke Stages Swimming Protest to Showcase Inter-island Transport Problems


‘Large Demonstration’ on Port-of-Spain Port Next Action Being Planned

TRINIDAD & TOBAGO — Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Minority Leader and Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke on Monday described his swim protest between Tobago and Trinidad as a resounding success.

However, according to the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, he cautioned citizens not to try the stunt as the journey was long and rough.

Duke, along with Assemblyman Farley Augustine and four other swimmers, began swimming from the Scarborough Fishing Facility shortly before 10 am on Monday, according to the Guardian. He engaged in the protest to highlight the issues facing the inter-island transport system, as well as the Ocean Flower 2 debacle, the newspaper said.

However, although he initially promised to swim from one island to the other, he had to abort the idea due to poor sea conditions and swam approximately seven miles before he altered his plan, the Guardian said.

Duke also fell out of a canoe, which caused some concern for those who were accompanying him. He eventually used a boat owned by a member of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association to get close to Toco, where he swam to shore at the fishing facility there.

Speaking to reporters in Toco, Duke said the journey was symbolic and well worth it.
“The sea was rough. I will not encourage persons to travel to Trinidad by that means, but it was worth it because it’s really the only alternative that the average Tobagonian has to get to Trinidad … so this afternoon was very symbolic for all of us. I want to particularly thank God, cause I mean when we left home this morning, we left women crying, husband crying, we left children wondering,” he was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

He said the people of Tobago should have the final say on the operations of the air and sea bridge and there must be greater respect for the THA.

“We understood the purpose and we were pushed and propelled by one hundred and twenty five years of suffering and being told by a Central Government in Trinidad what type of vessel we should use, what type of plane we should ride on. So we have decided that we want to make it absolutely clear, from this day forward Tobago must decide, must be the final deciding voice on the ferry service and the air service, it comes with no constitutional change, all it requires is respect for the Tobago House of Assembly and I can’t understand why the Chief Secretary, Mr. Charles, has allowed so much disrespect to come to the people of Tobago. Tobago operates as a state within a state, that why it is a Tobago House of Assembly,” the Guardian quoted him as saying.

Duke said the time for talking was also over.

“We have been talking for eight months. We have been keeping spot meetings, we have been doing all sorts of stuff, protesting … I am saying we are going to begin a new conversation, a conversation that says Tobago must decide and we intend to deliver a letter to the President, asking for a meeting to discuss the air and sea bridge; one to Caribbean Airlines, asking for a meeting on the air bridge and also the Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, asking for a meeting on the sea bridge,” he said, according to the Guardian.
He said the next protest action would see a large demonstration on the port at Port-of-Spain.

Mondays swim protest saw widespread support in Tobago. Thousands of Tobagonians showed up at the Scarborough Fishing Facility to witness the historic event earlier, the Guardian said.

Duke was showered with cheers and applause as he entered the water. Clad in swim gear, he swam for approximately seven miles, passing two markers off Scarborough before needing any assistance.

During the historic swim, Duke described all the swimmers as “freedom fighters.” A banana tree was also planted on their arrival in Toco to mark the event. They returned to Tobago via pirogue at 6 pm, the Guardian reported.