Three fisher folks have not been located and their families are coming to terms with the notion that they may not be alive. The trio embarked on a fishing trip last Friday to the area of Mapp Caye, well-known for an ongoing fishing turf war. The Coast Guard and the police have been conducting search operations, but so far, they have been unable to locate the fishermen who set out on the Lorraine, owned by Sheldon Gibson, one of the missing men. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The disappearance of three Belize City youths at sea over the weekend reeks of foul play, despite the absence of concrete evidence to support the families’ theory of their demise. Sheldon Gibson, Elijah Usher Jr. and Kevin Roches are unaccounted for after three days of an intense search and rescue operation led by the Belize Coast Guard. It is strongly believed that they were gravely injured while out on a fishing trip near Mapp Caye last Friday.
Captain Elton Bennett, Vice Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
“We commenced our search on Saturday morning along with members of the Crimes Investigation Branch of the police department. We concentrated in the Mapp Caye area because that was the last known position, that was the area that we had received that they were going to go and fish. So that was the area that we went and searched on Saturday. We came back empty-handed. On Sunday we received the assistance of the B.D.F. Air Wing to do some aerial searches and that search area expanded and we weren’t able to locate the target vessel.”
What the coast guard team is looking for is Loriannie, an eighteen-foot fiberglass launch carrying a forty horsepower outboard engine. The vessel is the property of the twenty-two-year-old Gibson, a resident of Raleigh Street in Belize City.
“What has been the effort of the family to go out there on their own to try to locate either Sheldon or the other two persons who are missing along with him?”
Voice of: Relative of Sheldon Gibson
“We had contacted the coast guard, we had contacted the police, we have made reports and we had asked them to go out there and make searches and so far we are not aware if they had went. We don’t know because, like I said, the police haven’t come back and give us any information. From Saturday we made the report and the police haven’t come back to visit us as yet.”
For all intents and purposes, the Belize Police Department is woefully behind on investigating criminal activities taking place off the coast of the city. The maritime domain may not be its jurisdiction; however, the proximity of Mapp Caye, as well as the fact that the disappearances are believed to be the result of piracy, should prompt officers to investigate these incidents carefully.
“Are you guys able to say if there is indeed some kind of war going on between the fishing camps?”
ACP Joseph Myvett, Head, National Crimes Investigation Branch
“Not that we know about. What we do know, though, is that the coast guard had effected regular patrols in that area as a consequence of what had transpired earlier in June.”
According to Captain Elton Bennett, all indications are that there is in fact a turf war being waged at sea, more so in that particular location.
Captain Elton Bennett
“So the area of Drown Caye and Mapp Caye, just about five miles east of Belize City, is a very lucrative fishing ground. Over the past three years we’ve seen a shift in the quality of marine life coming out of that area and we’ve seen the fisher folks in that area really prosper. It has become a real good business just east of Belize City and we definitely believe that the fishing turf issue is one of the reasons for increased violence in that area. So it’s an area that we are concerned about and we continue to do patrols in that area.”
In describing Gibson, a relative attests that he was not troublesome. Sadly, she seems to have accepted his fate.
Voice of: Relative of Sheldon Gibson
“He wasn’t a troublemaker. Everybody that knows him knows that he was a nice person, he was kind, but when he goes out there to sea, I can’t say he was a saint. I don’t know when he goes to sea what he does out there. However, if he is dead, I mean, you know, he didn’t have to go that way. But he chose not to listen, so what can we do?”
The Curse of Mapp Caye?
And, a large part of that is because they know very well that so far this year alone 8 men have gone missing from Mapp Caye - 5 were found murdered, while three are still missing.
Mark Neal knows their pain and terror all too well. In January of this year, his brother, lobster fisherman Evan Neal and two of his workers disappeared on that very same Caye. Almost a year later, they still don't have closure.
But the search for these latest missing men has given the Neal family one sliver of hope - and that's because the bullet-riddled boat police found on Sunday appears to be one of the two stolen from Evan Neal all those months ago.
We spoke to Mark Neal about it via telephone:
Mark Neal, Brother Disappeared, Map Caye, January
"And that boat looks like one of the ones that he has the last one that they couldn't find and I got a feeling that's it. I think police say they found it shot up and I they said they found a glove inside it and a red hat. Also I understand they found bullet holes and I would hope that they may still find some remains from my brother somewhere in that area or we could find him, because January will make one year. I could imagine the other families, especially for those 3 young men who are still missing at sea. They can get some closure, that would be great."
"It's like Mapp Caye has a curse."
"Yeah, I was looking at that you know. I was just discussing that the other day and I said something is wrong, because it all surround between Mapp Caye. I think something needs to be done more drastic that just patrolling that area. Whether they put a camp or a base out there, because that area is really out of hand. Some kind of demonic system is out there and that's my hope for the families out there to kep the faith and never stop. People going into that area, my thing is keep away from the area or just be careful."
Neal plans to go to the Coast Guard and confirm whether it is his brother's boat tomorrow.