Problems & Solutions

So, that time of the month again where I get the pleasure of sharing my thoughts on the current Bonaire situation. What situation? Read on...

This month the time for long drawn out stories and examples is coming to an end and the bitter truth can no longer be swept aside to keep everyone happy.

In the 22 years I was on the water with my little ship, the last 9 years were spent in the waters of the Royal Dutch Antilles. Eleven hurricanes and countless tropical storms were survived by my little ship and crew. "Our Confidence" lived up to her name. A mighty little ship she was and never a day goes by that I don't think about the times we shared and the reason behind the voyages we made.

When we arrived back on Saint Maartin as a relief ship for the surviving yachtsmen and their families, needless to say the relief was also for the shore side people of the island. We came from Trinidad with water, cooking gas, medicines, food, clothes, and most important – mail.  There had been no post for nearly two weeks after hurricane Louis. We also took with us from Trinidad 6 relief workers to help rebuild whatever was left after the devastating wind and sea had ripped through the hearts and lives of those island people.

It was 4.15am when we made landfall at Simpson Bay, dark and quite still. We were about a mile off shore and I wanted to take the Confidence right in to the bay. Freddy, my first mate, of German nationality and a first rate seaman with enough certificates to run an aircraft carrier, went white in the face when I told him my plan to enter the bay; citing the danger of hitting wrecks or sunken containers. “Plus”, he said as he drew himself up to his full height, “the sea bed may have changed; we are the first boat to arrive in the bay and it’s dark. No, Captain, let’s hold off and go the French side at first light.”  What followed was a nasty silence between us. In those days I was a young, very fit, hard-headed captain. What was going through my mind was the question, “would I have to knock him out or would he see sense and do as I had asked?”  He was a big chap and I knew, A. I would have to hit him hard and fast and - B. I would lose one of the best men I had ever sailed with. I pulled my last pack of cigarettes from my pocket (always a good peacemaker with a seaman) and we both took one and lit up.  The tension eased. By the time we were crushing our smokes into the ashtray Freddy was getting ready to post forward watch. As we made our way in to the bay his walk to the bow of the Confidence told me he was not happy, but I also knew he was the man for the job. His eye was good and his voice sharp. It took us an hour and a half to make that last mile. As we dropped the hook the sun was rising and with the arrival of daylight came the reality of the situation. Eight of us stood on the rail of the ship, not a word was spoken, every house along the sea front was smashed to pieces, and boats lay scattered around like discarded toys after all the kids had left the crèche. The first thing I had noticed was there were no birds singing to mark the sunrise, not one!

My reason for coming so close to the shore was simple. We had 30 tons of relief cargo on board and the whole idea of us making the voyage was so we could distribute the aid as fast as possible.  Plus –Bandits! Yes, after the hurricane, bands of men were flying round in go-fast boats and taking what ever they wanted.  Strange, I would have thought that after such a disaster people would bond and help each other. Quite the reverse was true.  The very fabric of society melted away and, love and compassion ran away like a fast running tide.

As we surveyed the coastline all our hearts were heavy. For me it was the first time I had seen so much destruction so fresh after it had happened. The smell of rotting food and dead animals was all around us.  Bits of houses and boats were floating by and what trees were left standing had no leaves or branches.  Others had fallen like some angry giant had danced all night without watching his step. What was going through my mind now was whether it was even possible for the island to stand on its feet again and rebuild.

Now as I sit here in Bonaire some 16 years later I realise it is not the natural disaster that killed the islands chances - but the way they would rebuild. And the reasons why they would rebuild in the way they did?  Money, Money, Money! Build for the tourist economy with never a thought for the nature that would lure those very tourists to the island!!

Today natural disasters are all over the world and every day we hear of another flood, earthquake or oil spill. What makes me so very sad for Bonaire is the biggest risk to ourselves, is in fact us - the people. We are the gravest danger to our own future! Building with lack of care and forethought, or any regard for the environment, Greed is the cement that holds these blocks together. Couple that with blindness by the government to the lessons that are being learnt all over the world but are being ignored here on Bonaire.

Government and developers are deaf to the cry of the caring ecologist and the desperate plea of the environmentalists. Recent history shows us that successive island governments of the islands have sold their soul to the dollar that comes with the selling of land. All in the best interest of the PEOPLE RIGHT!?

Last year, after Bonaire was hit by some strong winds, a great deal of damage was done to the sea front. The fishermen’s pier is still in ruin, but with no fish I guess we won’t need the fishermen any more hey? Once again I witnessed the stupid knee jerk reaction from the island council as they frantically grabbed the opportunity to expand the town pier and sink new mooring pins for the cruise ships. Also damaged were the road drains that now take so much fresh water run off from the new buildings and so much more dirt from the construction. And countless cars stood open and smashed by the storm seas. But no, you guessed! The idea of fixing these drains with a sump and filter so the run off was not so toxic for the coral was way too much for the politicians to think about, and as you can see from this press release the lack of action is taking its toll.

KRALENDIJK — The largest threats for the quality of the seawater around Bonaire regard the construction activities along the coast, sewage water from septic tanks (along with too many nutrients and bacteria), and the soil ending up in sea through erosion.
The aforementioned appears from the annual report on 2009 from the Committee for Nature Policy. The Committee advised the Board of Governors 57 times in 2009. The advice was positive in 50 cases, and the other times were negative. The Board of Governors acted upon the committee’s advice except for three cases of which the status is not clear yet. In the annual report, the committee also made an evaluation of the policy developments.
The committee expresses its concern in the annual report on the increase of fishing around the reeves. From research into the quantity of fish in the neighbourhood of the coral reef, it appears this has decreased drastically. There is less adult fish swimming around the reef and fewer adult lobsters.

The time for throwing mud at each other over this situation is over! Now is the time to listen the facts as we do not have another ten years to wait, the report states further.

During the past ten years, the American scientist Robert Steneck – together with the Bonaire National Marine Park – conducted various researches into the health of the coral reef. The annual report states that the latter has deteriorated considerably. The reef has increasingly more micro-alga and there is increasingly less young coral. The number of prowl fish has decreased, which is a bad sign for the condition of the ocean around Bonaire.
Scientists advised to purify the water from septic tanks as soon as possible because the wastewater along with the nutrients and other environmental damaging substances increased the growth of seaweed in the seawater.

Rob will help right? Well from what I have seen from the plan so far I do not think it will hhelp the people of the island or accommodate the S.O.S that is coming from the reef!

KRALENDIJK — As administrator and Bonairean, Deputy Jopie Abraham has problems with the Spatial Development Plan Bonaire (ROB). “The plan has too little space for the inhabitants of the island. The tourists and environment are given ample space, which is fine for the tourists, and I love the environment, but we must not become reservation inhabitants”, says Abraham.
“I heard that land is being parcelled out with 400 square meters per parcel, which means one lives on top of one another. We need space and that space is available.
Right now! IF the right action is taken we can still save Bonaire but believe me when I say the time for stories is over. Now is the time for action. I hope to God that the island is not hit by any storm in what is still the hurricane season. But, if that is the fate of the island, I pray we use the chance to build for the future. A future for ALL. Not just the tourist, not just the people, but a future for the creatures, the reef and the land. As I said earlier, it was not the hurricanes that destroyed the island’s environment; it was the lack of planning and forethought in the rebuilding after the event.
So till next time I end with this thought. Today is not a rehearsal for tomorrow so let’s get it right first time round.

Eilandsverordening Ontwerp Referendum sept 10
Eilandsverordening Memorie van Toelichting Referendum sept 10

Bonaire Problems & Solutions


All over the world people rely on their governments to serve and protect them. To work in the interest of the "greater good" and insure the safe future of the people who in most parts of the western world were voted in to office by the people. In fact to coin a phrase, By the People for the People!

In my opinion, I think it fair to say that the federal Government of the Antilles does not have the best track record over the last five decades. Dare I say it? Many times it has been delinquent in its actions and lack of action on many occasions.

Even though history tells us that the political system of the Dutch Antilles was born out of the peoples struggle for equality that lead to the great labor uprising in Curacao which in turn resulted in companies such as Royal Dutch Shell pulling out and leaving behind a monster refinery that from its day of inception was an environmental nightmare. The good intentions of the Governments creation has many times backfired on the very people it should have been protecting. If we did not learn this much from our own history the chance of us saving our future is grim to say the least.

At the same time we must face one fact. In a democratic world the people get the government they deserve, we the people vote the politicians in and we can send them home. For me, one of the biggest problems is that we the people are lazy! Once we take our vote we let the politicians run free till election time when once again the populous point accusing fingers and frown in discontent. This is not democracy and neither is it fair. This is self appointed autocratic dictatorship! Also it is the very reason that the people of Bonaire voted for change in the last referendum. We the people of Bonaire should ask ourselves one very important question. Do we really want to take responsibility for our own future and work with the political system, or do we want to carry on in this irresponsible manner and leave our future in the hands of others?

The BES Island Structure

It would be good to remember that the first taste of democracy came to the Caribbean not from the good will of our colonial forefathers but from Pirate ships. What? I hear you say, pirate ships! Yes just that. The crew of these ships elected the captain decided the course and also had a vote on what battles they would engage in and what battles they would let pass. Now I am not suggesting we should go back to piracy, I am suggesting there are lessons to be learnt.

If I were still a ship’s captain I would describe the future course of Bonaire as one that will bring us to shallow rocky waters striped with bad weather and strong currents. “But one that was achievable” if we do not hide from the dangers that face us.

One of the first things that the Dutch government took in hand was taxes, can’t really blame them for that, we need to know what revenue the island can make but maybe we should know what proportion of these monies well come back to the island. To what extent will the fiscal responsibility of the other two islands fall on the shoulders of Bonaire?

With the Euro in its current situation, the bail out of the Greeks and the ever growing instability of the banking world micro economies such as the BES islands come under more and more pressure to support themselves, through tourism and the up to now the not spoken about, exploitation of our natural resources. What resources? Salt is one that we all know. Fish is another, but perhaps we should not talk about that one on this ECO ISLAND’ where nature is our best chance of survival, at least that’s what the politicians say as they import an ever growing number of cars and trucks that we need for our future Right?

The last natural resource that we may indeed have here is one that could be the very rock that sinks the ship, OIL! That is for sure a real worry as we navigate our future course, hiding from this reality is the most dangerous thing we could do. “Don’t Worry The Dutch will Take care of Us” as far as I can establish thus far, the natural resources around the coast of Bonaire, that is to say our economic zone will be exploited by Holland. Having started this article by looking, allbeit briefly, at the track record of the federal Government of the Antilles it seems only fair that we now pay some attention to the history of the Dutch.

Out of the Pan into the Fire!

Make no mistake; Holland is a great country and its people tenacious and resourceful. Having survived the German occupation of the Second World War, and the hunger and the hardship of the post war depression However the latter was achieved in no small part by the exploitation of its colonies often times to the detriment of those peoples. Don’t get me wrong I am not just pointing fingers at the Dutch for this. In fact Holland was one of the few countries that learnt from its mistake and made reparation to those people also later providing home and shelter in the home land Holland. But, the common denominator also with regard to the environment has been to make the mistakes and then learn from them.

Sticking your hand in the fire is not the best way to teach your pupil that it’s HOT!

When it comes to the environment the learning process was not much better.
Holland just as Spain France and Great Britain all managed to nearly fish their waters to extinction. “The Cod war” as it became know to us as children was the result of absolute greed and shortsightedness by the countries involved and in my opinion is a lesson still not learnt either by Holland or the rest of Europe. As legislation is passed each country only gets more clever at finding ways round the law and for the Dutch one of those ways is to sell the flag of Holland and the Antilles to fishing vessels outside the EU. This is some thing that the government of Curacao is doing to this day. “Lesson still not learnt” the fire is HOT!

Holland however did show great initiative when it came to protecting its land from the ever rising ocean around it and in fact I would say they are world leaders when it comes to building dams and levies. Holland also showed great initiative when it came to ground water, the shame is it had to learn this by first poisoning the water by over loading the land with live stock and over use of fertilizers not by forethought.

So when it comes to the exploitation of oil we need to change these learning processes and fast! This is some thing that environmentalists all over the world have recognized in light of the current headlines of the deep sea oil spill. Here I would like to quote some passages from a paper written by Mr. David Jessop the Director of the Caribbean Council who states.

Although the slick has not touched Caribbean shores because of the distance, prevailing currents and winds, what has happened has serious implications for the large number of nations in the region that hope strengthening oil prices will make viable similar deep drilling operations within their own economic zones.

Broadly speaking and much over simplified, the Caribbean sits on two main strata of oil bearing rock and a number of tectonic faults where possibilities for the discovery of oil and gas are said to exist often in very deep water.

The consequence is that nations including Belize, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Grenada Barbados, Suriname and Guyana have seen an upsurge in geophysical research and exploration as rising oil prices and advances in technology have made possible in theory, the prospect of a find leading to the type of energy-led wealth that Trinidad has seen.

He further states that before Caribbean countries or territories start to explore their waters for oil they should have the correct safety and disaster plans at hand not start looking for them after the event.

Many people are unaware that the government of Curacao has been searching for oil along its coast and the sea bed between Bonaire and Curacao that have produced some positive findings and could be exploited some time in the near future, let me take a guess here, that would be some time after 10 10 10.

Some two weeks ago just off the coast of Venezuela a gas rig sank to the bottom of the ocean. Not to worry though Hugo says all the crew got off and that the well was capped. He gleefully told the rest of the world and his Caribbean neighbors this on TWITTER!! Maybe Jan Peter was busy on the phone, or maybe Hugo just did not know who to talk to with Jack out of office.

All Joking aside the BES Islands face some pretty rough waters ahead. This is no time to just presume the ship will find its own way.

Unfortunately even Bonaire seems to have adopted this process of learning first sticking your hand in the fire and then applying the ointment. Nearly six months ago it was pointed out that our ground water was showing signs of contamination, we also know that there is a good chance this is coming from our waste water trenches, yet some one thousand sixty days after the EU provided the funding we have still not laid one brick for the new plant. New plant? Not really, the fact is that we have taken so long to start building that we will now build an old out dated system just so we don’t loose the funding from Europe. In my opinion the people who should take the blame for this situation is the consultancy firm that, again in my opinion’ have provided us with the wrong advice at great expense! But hey what do I know? I’m just an old sea captain. Just maybe its time to bring another flag up the mast to join the colors of Bonaire and that of the Dutch, The Jolly Roger should fly on the good ship Bonaire.

Once again that brings me to the end for this month. So let me leave you this thought. No one is perfect; we are all just pupils in the school of life.


Changing of the watch

With the ensuing change of  government structure both here on Bonaire and the Antilles many issues have to be addressed, what issues should take priority seems to be a stumbling block for all parties concerned. The federal government must hand over some portfolios to the respective island councils and still others will go to the Netherlands.

The situation thus far here on Bonaire has made the priority not so much as what issues should take priority but who should take the responsibility and for what…This has resulted in withdrawal of funds from the Dutch and an all stop to the resolving of many issues that are “in my opinion” of the utmost importance. On the one side we have the Dutch government and on the other the local government with the RCS “Regional Service Centrum” making their mark as the referee between the two.

Even though this deadlock is now showing signs of resolve the effect has been all too clear with an ever growing feeling of resentment from the local population towards the Dutch. The Dutch on the other hand have made their minds up that the local population and the political leaders should be treated as misbehaving children. Once again I find myself going back to our metaphorical ship “The SS Bonaire” ships make such good examples for our current situation.

Changing of the watch is a regular happening on commercial ships. The deck crew the engineers and the officers all know what is expected of them and the outgoing captain will make sure that all stations are presented for the hand over in a proper and orderly fashion. There are many reasons why the captain may decide not to hand over his command. The primary reason for any such decision would be the safety of the ship and crew.

Based on the information given on the hand over the incoming crew and captain must decide what action must be taken before they set sail.

If for example the engineer reports the septic tanks are leaking into the bilge and the fuel tanks maybe contaminated no captain in his right mind would go to sea. First the problem would have to be resolved to insure the safety of the ship and the health of the crew.

Our little island Bonaire is no different!!!

The waste water trenches represent a real health risk and a danger to the island's ecosystems, this is a fact that no one can deny.

It is never easy putting a new crew together and often the first voyage can be clumsy to say the least but, the more they work together the stronger they get. If the Bes islands and their Dutch counter parts can find good common ground I see no reason why we should not be looking at a bright future for all parties concerned.

From the time I started writing this article two really important things took place. First the signing of the accord, signed on behalf of the local government by Jopie Abraham and on behalf of the Dutch by Mr. Henk Kemp. This is one of the most positive actions to take place this year and marks not just the change of the watch but the “sharing” of the watch. The signing of this new accord indicates the beginning of what could be a very bright future for Bonaire and the islands people. Making historical changes is never easy and demands strength and determination from all parties concerned, along with a lot of for thought and understanding and perhaps just a sprinkle of compassion!!

For me and my environmental concerns it marks the beginning of much needed action that must be taken to preserve this wonderful little island. The second thing that happened was that two gentlemen came to my show to explain how the island environmental problems would be tackled Mr. Joseph Van Brussel From the RCS, and Mr. Frank Slobbe, from the department of DROB.

The interview was both enlightening and constructive.

Waste water has been an issue of major concern for the island for many years and the idea that it will be resolved in the not too distant future is extremely reassuring. I was told the new interim or short term waste water plant should be on line as early as the end of this year. Even though it is called the interim plant it will stay on line and contribute to the end project that is expected to be on line before 012. Both of these projects will produce water that can be used for agriculture. The fact that we will also side step what is now a health hazard gives me great hope for the islands future.

The fact that these two situations may also lead to the end of what can only be called the discord between the political players and the people of the island is no small bonus!! Bonaire will only work as part of the BES island structure if we all contribute in a positive way.

During one of my past voyages at sea we were becalmed and the moral of the crew hit an all time low. No one was cooking and even personal hygiene seemed to take a slump, as the captain, I had to do something or I was facing a mutiny. So I threw the gauntlet down and went to the galley leaving the crew on deck in a foul mood. Grabbing what fresh food we had left I started to cook the best meal I had ever cooked at sea, “well in my opinion” some two hours later around the time of the evening watch I called them all below for the evening meal. Before they started to eat I announced that they must draw straws to cook the meal for the following day and that from that day till the day we made port we would vote on who had cooked the best meal. The winner would get free drinks for the night of our first day in port.

It worked so well that not only did we eat like kings for the remaining days at sea, but the moral boosted in to the wheel house with the crew having steering competitions to see who could steer the straightest course and thus get the best speed.

The lesson for me was simple. If you want people to do their best you have to motivate them. Right now the island people need motivation if they are to stay positive and be involved in the future of “THEIR ISLAND” and let’s not forget if you were not born here we are all just guest’s in the future voyage of Bonaire. Being a guest also comes with a responsibility, a responsibility to respect the ways and history of the people’s island we all inhabit. So many times I hear the words of new comers expressing how,” if only these people would change” how they find every one so lazy or even more insulting, Stupid! Lets not forget two things, first; the people of Bonaire have always had a reputation for being some of the friendliest islanders in the Caribbean. Their hospitality and willingness to help is some thing that is unparalleled in any other island. If we really want the best from Bonaire we must embrace them with open mindedness and respect.

Second, but by no means least: let us not forget the reason that many of us left our homeland to be here. Mostly I hear it was to escape the 'RAT RACE’ of our home countries. To see life and the nature around us in a new way, to preserve the fantastic historic way of life that is still such a big part of Bonaire.

For these two reasons alone I say before we try and change things make sure we appreciate what we have here and now. Most of us who have come and made our homes here in Bonaire have traveled the world extensively, yet many of the islands people have never left its shores. We must keep a balance where by the indigenous folk of the island can grow and achieve the same standards as those of us who come from outside. The children of the island should know that one day they can afford to build their own homes, here on their own soil and that the rich abundance of nature will still be here for their grand children as was for their grand fathers.

Our local fishermen should know that their way of life can carry on well into the future. Sustainable fisheries is some thing that we all! Will have to fight for, the Federal Government has already started issuing what are called “Catch certificates” to industrial fishing boats. Making sure that the economic zones of Bonaire are protected is not some thing we need to do for the divers and tourist industry but for the well being and tradition of the islands people.

That brings me once again to the end of this months issue, I leave with this thought as you go through life here. Treat every one, white black pink or blue with the same respect you would like to be treated with.



Besluitenlijst BO 18 apr 2010 BES
Besluitenlijst BO 24 apr 2010