Department of Environment moving slow on Great Escape

great escape vesselLegislation is key in dealing with the groundings on the reef. After the Westerhaven ruling, the governmentís attorney Deanne Barrow and biologist Melanie McField, who the C.J. relied on in making his assessment spoke about another vessel that ran aground. The owner of the Great Escape, Al Barcroft, continues to enjoy his freedom in Rio Dulce, Guatemala after his yacht ran aground on the reef last November. According to a local newspaper in Rio Dulce, Barcroft pretended to suffer a heart attack and has been claiming the government wonít charge him for damaging the reef. McField and Barrow feel that the pressure should be put on the relevant bodies to get the case underway.

Deanne Barrow

ďIn April 2009 legislation was passed, an amendment to the Environmental Protection Act was passed. What it does is to actually list out the damage amount per square meter of reef. So that provides a clear and unambiguous method for the court to use should this happen again. But it wasnít used in this case because the Westerhaven grounding was in January of 2009, that legislation was passed April. CaribeMariner was also passed before that legislationĒ.

Jose Sanchez

ďYou mentioned CaribeMariner, I understand that was settled out of court. But there is also a smaller case of a yacht called, the Great Escape ran aground on November thirtieth, and the owner faked a heart attack. He has been bragging about it in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. Nothing has been coming out of the Department of Environment regarding Al Barcroft and the Great Escape which damaged some portion of the reef in a reserve.Ē

Deanne Barrow

ďI didnít know he faked the heart attack. I heard on the news he had a heart attack and was flown out of Belize. So I donít know. But certainly if that disaster happened after the law was passed then that amendment should kick in to provide the basis for which to prosecute him or at least claim for the damages.Ē

Melanie Mcfield

ďI know that the local management authority, the Sea Southern Environmental Alliance, based in Placencia, they have been trying to reach the dept. of environment too because it is in a park they manage. You know they are a co-manager of sapodilla cayes now. They are trying to get answers and trying to find out whatís going on. Our system and the judge mentioned it too, a need for some new legislation that would better treat these groundings and I think thatís something Belize really needs.Ē

Jose Sanchez

ďDoes it bring you some comfort then, that the boating community out there in Rio Dulce, are so upset that at least one of them, have decided in May to come to Belize to speak to the Chief Environment Officer of the Department of Environment and relevant parties, to find out what happened and why this guy is saying he got away. He escaped.

Melanie McField

ďThe Great Escape, he named his boat aptly. I donít know. Itís news to me. Itís good if people take an active role and you keep the pressure on and letís find out whatís going on. Iím sure there are efforts afoot but we just donít know what they are. And thatís I think the benefit of going to court and coming through the system because itís public. And everyone can see itís open and transparent.Ē

In May John Van Zwieten, a businessman of Foreaction.com is travelling to the Jewel and intends to meet the Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria about the Great Escape. Van Zwieten is only one of many residents within the Rio Dulce boating community in Guatemala who are concerned that the yachtís owner has been claiming that the authorities in Belize have given him a free pass for the destroying a part of the reef within the Sapodilla Cayes Marine reserve.

Channel 5