Hydrographic project will improve maritime safety

We're at the height of the cruise ship season and Belize City harbour has never been more crowded with vessels both large and small. And that is just one of several reasons why the Belize Port Authority is seeking to make our coastal waters safer for those who use them. News 5's Kendra Griffith reports.

Major Gilbert Swaso
“As a country we have a mandate to provide an update product to mariners whether they are local or international, so that is our mandate and that is an output of the Gulf of Honduras project.”

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
And it is with that mandate in mind that Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala are now working on one component of the tri-national project enhancing navigational safety. According to Major Gilbert Swaso, Operations Manager at the Belize Ports Authority, in addition to increasing the safety of mariners, the updated information will also help protect the environment, especially in the previously uncharted north of the country.

Major Gilbert Swaso
“Most of the commerce or the activities has been directed in the Belize City harbour and further south. Now because of the increase in tourism within the country, now we see that there is a need now to ensure, that even the northern part of the country, and more so looking from an environmental standpoint, for us to properly chart those areas north with a view to certainly to provide good product and at the same time minimise any type of damages to our ecosystem in that area.”

With the increasing number of large vessels entering our waters for both cruise tourism and commerce, protecting the reef is high on the agenda. As recently as three months ago, the motor vessel “Tatoosh” anchored on the reef, while the MV Transfer—which more than a year after running aground—is still sitting high and dry on Lighthouse Reef.

Major Gilbert Swaso
“The Transfer has not been moved as yet, but the government is still committed to ensure that it is moved and we are looking at getting that salvage very soon.”

Kendra Griffith
“Any other vessels aground?”

Major Gilbert Swaso
“Well we have known of vessels that have run aground in the area of Lighthouse Reef, but those vessels just cause some damage to the ecosystem in that area. Certainly again, the Department of Environment, Coastal Zone, and the other law enforcement agencies are looking to bring the necessary and relevant charges on those vessels.”

Besides updating the charts, efforts to prevent such incidents include electronic mapping and designating the reef as a “Particularly Sensitive Sea Area.”

Major Gilbert Swaso
“The electronic charts will certainly provide any mariner with more information. Because the chart has basic detail, but when you go into the electronic component, what will happen is that it will have more information, such as what this boundary represent, what this line represent. It will also mention for example, if the barrier reef was to be designated as a particularly sensitive sea area, that will be on the electronic chart, and when you put a cursor per say on the reef, it will say you are not allowed to touch the reef. You are not allowed to come with a particular size of vessel within three miles of the reef. So that information will be very important for mariners to know, so it will minimise those incidents like Transfer.”

Providing technically support for the project is the International Hydrographic Office and the Meso-American Caribbean Sea Hydrography Commission. Kathy Ries works with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is Chairperson of the MACHC Electronic Chart Committee.

Kathy Ries, Deputy Dir, NOAA
“What we are going to be doing over the next couple of days is to work with the Belize Ports Authority to plan what surveys are going to be carried out in Belize Harbour, to identify what charts are going to be updated and when, and also, to begin to look at developing what’s called an environmental data layer that can be displayed with the charts, so that the mariners can then have environmental information that they don’t normally have access to.”

The data generate by the project will also be provided to the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office to update the charts it has traditionally produced for Belize. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

According to Ries, the project is expected to last five years and cost an estimated seven million U.S. dollars, those monies being provided by the UN Global Environment Facility and the Inter-American Development Bank with in kind support from the countries involved.