MV Christena was a 160-foot, government-owned and operated ferry boat, which worked the 12-mile route between St. Kitts, and Nevis.
The passenger ferryboat sank in the Narrows–a thin strait between the islands–on August 1, 1970 when the captain failed to close the vessel’s watertight doors. Workmen had been repairing the propeller shaft below decks and they assumed the captain would make a final check before departing St. Kitts for Nevis.
Designed to carry 180 passengers, the boat was overloaded with over 300 happy people heading home to Nevis from an Emancipation Day holiday celebration. Not long out of port, the ferryboat started to capsize and the captain turned his vessel sharply toward shore in an attempt to run it aground. But the bulky, top-heavy boat capsized quickly. Fishing boats and pleasure craft came to the rescue, but only 91 people survived, and the great majority of those were people that had to be rescued.
The Christena was a converted river boat built in New Orleans to which a steel superstructure had been added. It had two passenger decks, the lower one enclosed. The ferry was unstable because ballast had been removed to make it ride higher in the water and keep the sea from washing over the decks. Most of the survivors were on the open upper deck.
After the ferry boat sank, numerous injured people were in the water, and the blood attracted the sharks. Of the 233 casualties, 57 bodies were retrieved and identified; 66 bodies were retrieved but were unidentifiable. A number of bodies were trapped inside the sunken wreckage, and these bodies were left in place
The Christena is a protected marine memorial park that respects those who were lost in the disaster.
With the permission of the marine park, we visited the wreck of the Christena. Visiting the wreck was a very sobering experience and one that we did not take lightly. Sitting upright in the sand at 70 feet, the wreck looks like a ghost of its former self. Dense marine growth covers the boat, enhanced by small lacy hydroids. Much of the structure of the ferry is still intact, leaving your imagination to recreate the events of its’ final journey. We visited both the engine compartments and the passenger areas. The interior of the ferry was very grim. Inside the wreck, skulls and skeletal remains of those who had been trapped inside lay along side bottles of whatever was consumed the day it went down.
To honour the memory of those lost in this tragic sinking, divers from St. Kitts and Nevis conduct a yearly memorial dive.