6 Belizeans are detained in Puerto Cortez, Honduras tonight - and they could be the suspected pirate gang that has been terrorising southern seas and shuttling between hideouts in Belize and Honduras.
HCH Digital News out of Tegucigalpa is reporting that a joint operation this morning in the Baja Mar community of Puerto Cortez resulted in the arrest of 6 Belizeans and two Hondurans allegedly in possession of outboard engines.
It is the result of a large law enforcement operation in that country called ALTO IMPACTO -part of a region-wide security initiative. Here's what Puerto Cortez police commander Frank Gallo told HCH News:
Translated "In the area of Baha Mar is where the 6 Belizeans were detained. They are responsible for the robbery of 3 boat engines to traffic drugs. They are being process for expulsion to their country."
The 6 Belizeans include a 17 year old minor. The names of the adults are as follows:
25 year old Jaime Nolberto Coote, 28 year old Vincent Esron Martinez, 19 year old Fernando Avila, 20 year old Justin Floyd Palacio, and 40 year old Jeremy Waylon Leslie, and, the minor.
All of the men have extended rap sheets here in Belize. As you heard, they remain in custody there facing immigration charges for illegal entry, news reports say the INTERPOL Unit in that country is coordinating their expulsion to Belize.
We are told the boat engines are linked back to Belize - and will be checked closely against piracy incidents in these waters - including the case of four men who went missing off Dangriga in December and have not been found.
The arrest is also the product of local law enforcement's hard work. The Coast Guard, the Fisheries Department and the G-I-3 unit have been working tirelessly with their Honduran counterparts - and a significant piece of bi national law enforcement cooperation. The Acting Commandant of the Coast Guard, Greg Soberanis told us that he is very pleased that they have been caught - and he looks forward to them facing charges in Belize.
Voice of: Cmdr. Greg Soberanis, Acting Commander Coast Guard "We also got information that they were planning to actually return to conduct some more robberies and then quickly return to Honduras. So we were anticipating their return because we heard that they were planning on making their way back to Belize and so just today we sat down and we planned how we would position ourselves in order for a possible intercept from them coming back from Honduras. So we are happy that they have been caught by the Honduran authorities and from what I have been informed is that our police counterparts are working with the Honduran authorities in having them being handed over to the authorities here in Belize. So hopefully that can occur and that they can come back and face the consequences of their actions here in Belize."
"I am pleased with the efforts that the coast guard, fisheries and GI3 the work that they've been doing over the past few weeks. I know the guys have been from all 3 organizations have been working diligently both locally and like I said with our Honduran counterparts in bringing these perpetrators to justice, so on our side we are extremely pleased with the outcome to today."
He says this bi-national law enforcement effort did also result in the recovery of a stolen vessel which one of the pirates had brought back to Belize.
Law Enforcement Persistence Is what Caught The Pirates
In Honduras, the police didn't play when they caught up with suspected Belizean coastal pirates. These are believed to be the same pirates who have been committing various crimes at sea in Belizean waters and hightailing it across the maritime boundary to escape authorities.
But now they've been caught and it was only through a combined effort of the Coast Guard and the police department, along with their Honduran counterparts, which allowed them to capture the six men who have been at large weeks now.
Today, the Coast Guard celebrated this victory, and Courtney Menzies spoke with the commandant about hat happened next and other maritime threats that are still live. Here is that story.
As we told you yesterday, the Coast Guard believes the pirates would have struck again in Belize soon if they had not been caught.
On Tuesday, a group of sea pirates were detained in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. Believed to be the masterminds behind the attacks at sea in southern Belize, six Belizean men and two Honduran nationals were captured during a sting operation carried out by law enforcement officers from that neighbouring country. News Five's Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The Belize Coast Guard along with its partner agencies have been working around the clock to track and capture the persons behind what has been an increase in criminal activity at sea.ï¿½ The coastal pirates had an organized network and worked between Belize and neighbouring Honduras where stolen engines and products can be sold in exchange for guns and drugs.
"We've been not only collecting the information, but we've been connecting those information. So we collect the dots and connect the dots. We have been working closely with our Honduran counterparts as we know that those guys were in Honduras, we knew where they were and we were able to vector in on these sea pirates and thank God yesterday a strike operation was conducted where they were arrested and found with the items that were mentioned."
The strike operation was conducted in the Baja Mar community of Puerto Cortez and led to the arrest of six Belizean men and two Hondurans.
Frank Gallo, Police Commander, Puerto Cortez [Translated]
"In the area of Baha Mar is where the six Belizeans were detained. We confiscated six boat engines and we believe that there were responsible for the robbery of engines to traffic drugs. These persons are being dealt with by immigration officials so that they can be expelled from the country."
The Belizean detainees are Jaime Nolberto Coote, Vincent Esron Martinez, Fernando Avila, Justin Floyd Palacio, Jeremy Waylon Leslie and a seventeen-year-old minor - all reportedly from southern Belize. All are well known to local law enforcement.
Commander Gregory Soberanis
"We have come in contact with them. We now know their respective area of operation; we were able to determine how they operate; what was their modus operandi and their associates, their foot soldiers. So while some of their key members have been detained and arrested, we will go after these foot soldiers and our intent Duane, and I say this without apology, our intent is to crush them. We know that there are times when the criminal elements who operate here, that their Honduran counterparts come into our sea spaces. In fact one of the Hondurans that have been detained is a key member of the Honduran cartel. So like I said, Duane, this is significant for us, but by no means is this the end."
For some time now, southern Belize has been the target area for sea pirates who have been robbing fishermen of their products and boat engines. In a most recent incident, a private island resort off the Placencia peninsula was invaded and the owner shot multiple times before the men escaped with his boat and an undisclosed amount of items.
Commander Gregory Soberanis
"We know that it is not only about the guys in Honduras. We know that they are associates of this group who still are here in Belize. Last week we were able to locate one of their vessels; we were also able to locate the engine from the vessel that was stolen from the shooting victim in Placencia. So all these things law enforcement has in its custody and we will continue to pursue the associates of this criminal element. We will not stop and I want them to know that. The coast guard is at war and we will go after them. We will ensure that these guys face the penalties of the law. This is only the first phase of the operation that we have designed and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the criminal elements who have committed crime in our sea spaces."
Today, the detainees are being processed by Interpol and Honduran authorities. They will then be taken into custody by Belizean authorities where a slew of charges is expected to be levelled.
Commander Gregory Soberanis
"I've been informed that coordination is currently underway for them to be handed over to Belizean authorities. So that's where we currently are with that particular situation. There are several offenses that can easily be identified so I know that is a matter that our police counterpart will deal with and I have full confidence in the capabilities of the police to do what they need to do. There may also be some immigration offenses as well. There are many components to this case so as it continues to unfold, more will surface and we will look at how these criminals, these coastal pirates will be handled."