Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia and crew members, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune of the cargo ship, Helga, have been missing for a week. It doesn’t look good for the families of the missing Cubans since on Thursday night, the Belize Coast Guard called off its search for the three men. But it’s asking boaters in the area of Caye Caulker to keep an eye out for the men. The vessel was overpowered by heavy waves last Saturday night and capsized three miles east of Caye Caulker. Only eight men from the eleven member crew were rescued. But aside from what looks like fatalities, the Institute of Maritime Studies has raised its own concerns over the fuel contained in the ship. The NGO’s executive director, Major Lloyd Jones, stopped by our studios today to speak about the risks associated with the sunken vessel and the entire marine shipping industry.
Major Lloyd Jones, Executive Director, Institute of Maritime Studies
“We have been advocating for some time now for Belize to move in the direction of putting in place a sound oil spill response mechanism and part of the reason for that is that we recognize the inherent risks of shipping and I think that, as unfortunate as it was, the sinking of the vessel Helga, in our view brought into sharp focus, the need for us to move with dispatch to put in place this kind of mechanism. That vessel went down and thus far, we have not heard from any of the government agencies responsible what quantities of oil were onboard when she went down and what type of oil. Clearly she had onboard some fuel, we need to know the particulars of the fuel and how it is that the government agencies are going to respond in the event that that fuel begins to leak.”
“Do you think people have over looked the risks of oil spills because we don’t have offshore drilling?”
Major Lloyd Jones
“I think so. I think that a lot has been made about offshore drilling and that has its own challenges and issues. We certainly don’t want to get into that debate at this point but shipping has some risks with it. Whenever there is an accident, or whenever the ship runs aground, there’s the risk that the fuel onboard will leak into the marine environment. I think that we’ve got to prepare for that eventuality. When you consider that on a yearly basis, fifteen point four billion gallons of fuel move through our territorial waters onboard these ships, the risk certainly is significant. We do have a national emergency preparedness plan for oil spills, but that plan has not been properly resources, it has not been exercised so we think the time is right to begin to build that mechanism. It’s not going to happen overnight but we need some commitment from the government to begin to move in that direction. So hopefully this might provide some impetus for them to do that.”
Helga is a Panama flagged ship that was leased by the Cubans. It was passing through Belize with shipment of salt from Mexico that was destined for Honduras.