In 1991, it was very expensive to call the Virgin Islands from Jamaica. The price was well worth it for the family of Clive Ferdinand Watson, who would call him every Friday.
Mr. Watson’s daughter, Natalie Reid, was 15 at the time, and in July of that year she was preparing for her CXC exams. During one of their weekly phone calls, she told him that she’d been accepted into her class of choice, and he listened to her request for tuition assistance.
The following week, she hesitated to speak with her father because she wanted to give other family members a chance, but he insisted on it.
It was their last conversation.
Mr. Watson’s partially eaten body was found at sea in Tortola while he was employed on the Sir Francis Drake tall ship, a historic schooner where Mr. Watson worked as an assistant chef, according to Ms. Reid.
More than 30 years later, she said, his family still doesn’t have all the answers.
Ms. Reid said she doesn’t know what happened to cause her father’s death or where his remains are.
In 2022, she decided to learn more, but it hasn’t been easy. It was only last year, after making requests both in Jamaica and the VI, that her efforts gained any traction, she said.
Although she recently obtained a VI death certificate that listed the cause of her father’s death as accidental drowning, she said it raises further questions. And the family, she added, has never obtained compensation for his death or important official documents like an autopsy report.
Search for answers
Ms. Reid, a Jamaican who has never travelled to the VI, began her search for answers in Jamaica.
She believes the captains of the ship at the time included a German investor and former members of the New Zealand navy, so she reached out to the German embassy in Jamaica and to officials in New Zealand.
She also contacted the Jamaica Ministry of Justice and was advised to contact the country’s Ministry of Tourism, which she decided wouldn’t be able to help her efforts, she said. She instead contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
That ministry, she said, advised her to seek a lawyer in the VI.
She then asked two private lawyers in the territory to provide pro bono services, and sought help from the BVI Bar Association and a Baptist church in the territory, but didn’t receive the assistance she needed, she said.
Her family, she added, doesn’t have the funds to travel to the territory, let alone hire a lawyer here.
She’s also reached out to VI Search and Rescue and the BVI Tourist Board without obtaining further information, she added.
Additionally, Ms. Reid requested a police report from the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force in November 2022; a coroner’s report from the VI Magistrates’ Court in early January 2023; and information about Mr. Watson’s burial from the Ministry of Health and Social Development last February.
After months with no response, Ms. Reid said, she made contact with VI coroner Dr. Rosemary Callwood in June.
Dr. Callwood, she said, told her via phone that the 2017 hurricanes destroyed many records and that the autopsy report wasn’t available. However, Dr. Callwood helped her locate the death certificate at the Civil Registry and Passport Office.
Ms. Reid received a copy in June but found that it incorrectly listed her father’s age as 24 although he was 33 at the time of his death. The certificate stated that his cause of death was “accidental drowning,” but Ms. Reid harbours doubts.
“I’m just trying to get some answers,” Ms. Reid said. “There were no answers in 1991, and I just want answers.”
Dr. Callwood told the Beacon she was not at liberty to disclose any information about the incident and said she didn’t know whether any investigation was ongoing following Ms. Reid’s inquiries.
None of the other VI government agencies Ms. Reid contacted responded to the Beacon’s requests for comment.
Ms. Reid said that her mother and uncle believe that Mr. Watson had an argument with a female crewmember shortly before he died.
The uncle, Granville Watson, told the Beacon, “There was a female on the ship, and him and her had a physical altercation [before the incident].”
He added that his brother told him about the incident the last time he spoke to him on the phone. Granville Watson said he also believes that crewmembers resigned from the ship after the incident.
The way the family was treated after the death also raised red flags, according to Ms. Reid.
The owners of the ship said that Mr. Watson and his family weren’t eligible for benefits after his death, according to Ms. Reid’s uncle.
But Ms. Reid’s half-brother, Leonard Watson, insisted at the time that Mr. Watson had completed an insurance form and named him as a beneficiary, Ms. Reid said.
Shortly after Mr. Watson’s death, his brother Granville received a box with his belongings and a condolence card with signatures from some employees, she said.
The boat owners also offered to pay for Mr. Watson’s mother to attend the funeral, but the family turned down the offer since they didn’t want her travelling alone, according to Ms. Reid.
One of the captains called Ms. Reid’s grandmother on the day of Mr. Watson’s funeral, but they didn’t state where the body would be buried, she added. Ms. Reid also claimed that the boat owners changed their numbers after that.
According to posts on the ship website ElvinCountry.com, the ship was lost during Hurricane Lenny in 1999. The company the operated it, Windjammer Cruises Sailing, is no longer in operation.
At the time
Ms. Reid’s grandparents tried to get help from INTERPOL and the Jamaican government at the time, Mr. Watson said.
They also spoke to a local Jamaican newspaper and requested help to investigate the incident.
Ms. Reid said her grandmother also sought consultations from local lawyers in Jamaica, but she was told that seafarers worked “at their own risk” and the case couldn’t be pursued in the courts.
“The trauma we experienced as teenagers significantly impacted our lives. However, we are alive and there is hope,” Ms. Reid said. “It also affected my father’s parents, siblings, extended family and friends, as he embodied what it meant to be a true human being.”