8 of 11 Cuban nationals rescued after salt ship capsizes

While families of murder victims are grieving the weekend’s violence, eight of eleven Cuban nationals are safe and dry tonight. The Belize Coast Guard rescued the eight men on Sunday morning near the reef where their vessel had submerged. The men were in rafts when they were spotted and pulled out of the deep sea. Helga, their vessel, was transporting a cargo of salt from Mexico to Honduras and sea conditions were perilous. News Five’s Delahnie Bain has this story.

Delahnie Bain Reporting

It’s been almost forty-eight hours since the Coast Guard launched an intensive search for eleven Cuban Nationals, following a distress call that their cargo ship was sinking. The ship, named Helga, was travelling through Belize en route to Honduras, but it now sits at the bottom of sea approximately three miles east of Caye Caulker.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer, National Coast Guard

Gregory Soberanis

“At approximately eleven-thirty Saturday night we received a distress call via channel sixteen from a vessel, Helga, that it was rapidly taking on water and was sinking. The Coast Guard immediately activated and we deployed a rescue unit to the position that was given to us. Shortly thereafter, a second search unit was deployed from this location to support the initial search unit at that location. The vessel is a Panama flagged vessel. We were informed that the vessel was coming from Mexico and was en route to Honduras. Two hundred and twenty feet long, it was a cargo vessel transporting salt to Honduras.”

Lieutenant Junior Grade Gregory Soberanis, the Operations Officer at the Belize Coast Guard, says they have rescued of eight persons.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“At about one-ten early Sunday morning, the first four individuals were found on board a life raft similar to what you’re seeing here. The search efforts continued because we knew there eleven individuals onboard the vessel at the time. At approximately seven-thirty the morning, the second four were found onboard a beaten and battered life raft close to the reef as well. We were informed by those that we rescued that the other three were in the water. They were wearing life jackets and were in the water but due to the weather condition at the time, they got separated.”

But the search isn’t over; efforts have intensified to find the ship captain and two crew members who are still lost at sea.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“Search efforts continue along with our partner agencies; the Port Authority and the Belize Defence Force air wing to try and locate these three missing individuals. In our initial search, we had the B.D.F. air wing do an aerial search, however nothing was sited; only a lot of debris from the vessel. We found life vests floating that were from the vessel but we were informed by the crew that there were additional life vests that were onboard the vessel at the time.”

The rescued men have received medical attention and were handed over to the Immigration Department in Belmopan for processing.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“The eight men that were rescued were initially taken ashore to Caye Caulker where they were given medical treatment and further transported to Belize City and escorted by the Cuban Ambassador.”

Delahnie Bain

“Were any of them injured or anything?”

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“None were injured. The first four, because of the rapid response by the Coast Guard they were quickly found. The second four that were found, they were quite dehydrated and it seemed like hypothermia was about to set in because they were quite cold. So they were given water, some food and of course medical treatment.”

Soberanis says that following the search and rescue mission, the Coast Guard will conduct a marine casualty investigation to determine what caused the ship to sink. Delahnie Bain for News Five.

The men who were rescued are: Iraelio Mengana Garcia, Armando Garnado Martinez, Antonio Perez Sadez, Humberto Iglesias Hernandez, Alfredo Porta Martinez, Jose Consta Nalia, George Herrera Aldana, Joaquin Ruiz De Zarate Arribas. Meanwhile, Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune are still missing. Some of the stills in the story were provided through the kind courtesies of the San Pedro Sun.

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