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 government’s 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 won’t 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

“In 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 wasn’t used in this case because the Westerhaven grounding was in January of 2009, that legislation was passed April. CaribeMariner was also passed before that legislation”.

Jose Sanchez

“You 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.”

Deanne Barrow

“I didn’t know he faked the heart attack. I heard on the news he had a heart attack and was flown out of Belize. So I don’t 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.”

Melanie Mcfield

“I 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 what’s 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 that’s something Belize really needs.”

Jose Sanchez

“Does 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

“The Great Escape, he named his boat aptly. I don’t know. It’s news to me. It’s good if people take an active role and you keep the pressure on and let’s find out what’s going on. I’m sure there are efforts afoot but we just don’t know what they are. And that’s I think the benefit of going to court and coming through the system because it’s public. And everyone can see it’s open and transparent.”

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 yacht’s 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