A luxury yacht is anchored on the reef right in front of San Pedro Town tonight and the owner – a man from Cancun is detained by San Pedro Police. The vessel which flies a Bermudan flag was first seen this morning and authorities responded quickly including the San Pedro Police, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Department of Environment. The boat captain forty nine year old Salvador Villerias Eckart who is a resident of Acapulco, Mexico but has been living in Cancun. According to authorities the boat captain is being detained by DOE following their investigation and an assessment of the damage on the reef.

We spoke with Miguel Alamilla, a Fisheries Officer and the Manager of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The photos of the vessel were provided by the San Pedro Sun newspaper.

Miguel Alamilla, Hol Chan Marine Reserve
“We need to quantify the damage, the extent of the damage, and then the court is going to decide from there on what is going to happen.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
And what you say is the initial reports coming from divers, what have they actually seen underwater?

Miguel Alamilla,
“They reported extensive damage because it has a metal chain, from the anchor there is a metal chain going all the way to the boat and the metal chain is dragging on the bottom of the coral reef and there is a strong north wind and the boat is swaying back and forth and the anchor keeps dragging on the reef.”

Jacqueline Godwin,
And no doubt because this is a popular dive spot, this is of concern to you guys.

Miguel Alamilla,
“Well the entire reef is of concern and the entire four reefs in front of Ambergris Caye are dive sites I would say, that whole area is used by scuba divers to dive there; several dive sites all along the reef in front of Ambergris Caye.
I hope this doesn’t occur again. We work very closely with the tour operators, tour guides here on the island and they were the ones who notified us very early that this has happened and this is a foreign vessel and we don’t have much outreach out to the foreign navigation but it is not something that occurs very frequently. I think the last one we had was several years ago. Just to clarify, this did not happen inside the marine reserve. This is in front of San Pedro Town. The nearest reserve which is Hol Chan is about three miles away.”

And while the Department of Environment continues to investigate, it is not certain when the vessel will be removed in a manner which will prevent further damage to the reef. Salvador Villerias Eckart reportedly told police he had to drop his anchor in the reef after a rope got tangled in one of the propellers and so basically he had to use the anchor as a brake to avoid running over the reef. As we understand while the rope was freed from the propeller the boat remained anchored at the location. According to the police the boat captain told them that he arrived very early this morning and was not aware of any damage to the reef.

Following the relevant assessment and investigation it is expected that the boat captain will be charged. Just how much? Well that depends on the severity of the damage done to the reef.

Channel 7