Boat Capsizes - Three Missing at Sea - 03/21/11 02:17 PM
San Pedro Sun
Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune were three of 11 men aboard the 220 foot cargo vessel named Helga on Sunday morning at 1:00 am. They were transporting a cargo of salt from Coloradas, Mexico to Puerto Cortez Honduras, a route they often travel.
But on Sunday morning, the sea was very rough; and they were outside the reef where the vessel was tossed about by 8 foot swells. The Captain and crew came up with a plan to try and get to Turneffe and hide behind that island, but the boat started to take on water and keeled dangerously. They then decided to head straight for the nearest land, or the reef, but that's when the vessel toppled onto its side and they jumped off, with the engine running.
Now the water out in the blue can be as deep as a thousand feet, and at one in the morning in the throes of a squall, eight of them made it to a safety vessel.
The Coast guard got the distress call minutes before:..
Lt. Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer BNCG
"Approximately 11:30 pm Saturday night, a coast guard operation cell receive a distress call from a vessel Helga - that it was in distress and it was rapidly taking in water and we immediately deployed our patrol station in San Pedro because we knew the position of the vessel - it was approximately 4 nautical miles east of Caye Caulker. We also know that there were 11 crew members on board. The sea condition at the time was very rough; a small craft warning was out at the time. Our initial deployment from San Pedro - our patrol found the first 4 crew members aboard a small life raft that is right here next to me. Thereafter a second search unit was deployed from this location to support the search efforts in that area. The first set of 4 was found at approximately 1:10 that morning. The search efforts continue throughout the night and a second set of 4 was found approximately found at 7:30 that morning in a second life raft. They were obviously de-hydrated, hyperthermia was settling for them, they were shivering die to the weather conditions. The life raft was severely beaten and battered and they were adrift close to the reef. So we caught them just in time. We were inform by the individuals that there were 3 others who were unable to make it into the life raft, however they were wearing their life jackets at the time. But those are the 3 individuals that are accounted for still missing that we are currently searching for at this time. As it relates to the search efforts, the coast guard has two assets out there currently doing surface search along with another vessel from the Caye Caulker emergency center. So far we've seen a lot of debris form the ship. The ship was a Panamanian flag ship flying the Panama flag. We were inform that it was coming from Mexico en-route to Honduras. It was transporting salt - it was a cargo vessel - 22o feet long so it was sizeable vessel. However the call we receive that night - the captain definitely - you can hear the sound in his voice that the ship was rapidly taking in water so ever effort is being made at this time to try to locate the 3 missing individuals."
The search will resume tomorrow morning and if nothing is found, may have to be called off tomorrow evening. The coast guard is supported by the BDF airwing which ahs been doing aerial searches.
To be clear, the 11 are not Cuban boat people or refugees; their documents are in order and they are salt traders. The survivors are:
Iraelio Mengana Garcia, 47yrs; Armando Garnado Martinez, 47yrs; Antonio Perez Sadez, 37yrs; Humberto Iglesias Hernandez, 49yrs; Alfredo Porta Martinez, 43yrs; Jose Consta Nalia, 46yrs; George Herrera Aldana, 38yrs; Joaquin Ruiz De Zarate Arribas, 39yrs.
There is another slightly less dramatic but equally important case of a man who had gone missing at sea but washed up alive on northern caye caulker. 55 year old American National Jack Burnette reported to police that he along with 3 other men - namely - Kenneth Cox, Gary Paumgargmar and Eric Resse - went diving about one mile north of Caye Caulker around 1 o'clock on Saturday afternoon. 40 minutes later, the men went back to their boat and that was when they realized that Eric Resse was nowhere to be found. But things ended on a good note - because on Sunday afternoon around 12 midday, Resse visited the Caye Caulker police station where he told police that he was rescued from the mangroves across from the split in the village.
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
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“Were any of them injured or anything?”
“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.
Three days after Helga went down in Belizean waters, the search continued today.
Jorge Aldana reporting…….
"After 65 hours, there is still no word from the three missing men at sea. The three missing persons namely Captain Arturo Edreira Cuza and crew members Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez were all on board Helga, a Panamanian flagged ship that was transporting salt from Honduras to Mexico when in sank on Saturday night in Belizean waters. According to the Belize National Coast Guard, the search restarted early this morning and concluded shortly after 5:00 PM. The search was futile since there were no visible sightings of any of the three men. The search for the trio will resume tomorrow however it is uncertain as to how much days before the search is discontinued. And while the intensive search continues, family members both in Miami Florida in the USA and in Cuba are anxiously waiting for any word or new development in regards to news of their love ones. A family of Captain Arturo Cuza living in Miami explained to Love News that they are devastated and are still in shock. While they are asking Belizeans to keep them in prayers, they are also hoping for the best. According to family members Captain Cuza is married and is the father of two all of whom live in Cuba. Following the rescue of the eight men who were also on board the vessel at the time of the incident, all the search and rescue crew have recovered so far is 10 passports."
The search went all day today and will continue tomorrow. According to the Coast Guard they have found a lot of debris from the 200 foot ship floating but no signs of life or of the massive vessel itself.
As we reported last night three men disappeared when the boat went down beyond the reef: they are Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune. Eight were saved and they are housed at the Cuban embassy in Belize City.
The men were transporting a cargo of salt from Mexico to Puerto Cortez, Honduras, a route they often travel.
All day today the Belize Coast guard scoured the waters near Caye Caulker in search of three Cuban salt traders. Eight were rescued but Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune have not been located since their vessel sunk near the reef just before midnight on Saturday. The vessel, Helga, is a Panamanian flagged vessel, leased by the Cubans who were heading from Mexico to Honduras with a cargo of salt. According to the Belize Coast Guard, even though the clock is ticking, they are still hopeful that the men are alive. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.
Delahnie Bain, Reporting
The cargo vessel, Helga, capsized and sank in rough waters late Saturday night a few miles east of Caye Caulker. Eight Cuban nationals were rescued and today the Belize Coast Guard and divers continue searching a thirty square mile area near the reef for the ship’s captain and two crew members, who are still missing.
Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer, Belize Coast Guard
“The commandant has instructed that we continue with the search efforts for two main reasons; one: the incident occurred within our internal waters close to two of our main islands and close to the reef along with the many mangrove islands in the surrounding areas. And two: because of all the debris that we found including life jackets, the possibility of survival still exists. So as a result the search efforts continue at this time.”
The Operations Officer of the Belize Coast Guard says he spoke to one of the rescued men on Monday and got details of their near death experience.
“The individual told us that the weather conditions were terrible at the time, as we knew before. He said they were trying to reach on the western side of Turneffe to shield from the weather. The ship, as I had mentioned earlier, was taking on a lot of water. When they realized they were unable to reach Turneffe to shield from the weather, they tried to turn towards the mainland. Attempting to do that, and realizing they would not be able to make it to mainland because he said the boat or vessel leaned to one side and eventually began to turn over. It was at that point that they made the decision to abandon ship. So they had to actually jump off the ship and it was quite a horrifying experience as it seemed as though the ship was going to come on top of them. So they practically swam away and he mentioned to us that in about ten minutes time the ship went under, the ship sunk. So it was quite an ordeal for these men.”
But while in the waters, the men were separated and only eight of the eleven made it onto the life rafts.
“The abandon ship procedures was that three of them would have radios; the captain, the second mate and the individual that we spoke to yesterday. He said he eventually lost his radio because the waves, sea conditions were extremely rough. He said upon entering the water, they called each other out by name to get accountability that all personnel were accounted for. But upon entering the life raft, they realized that the three individuals were not amongst them.”
Delahnie Bain for News Five.
When eight out of the original group of eleven Cuban nationals were rescued on Sunday morning, they were released to the Cuban ambassador, Manuel Rubido.
The Panama-flagged cargo vessel, which was loaded with salt bound for Mexico, from Honduras, and was carrying a crew of eleven, capsized after running into bad weather.
The three members of the crew who are still missing are Alexis Gonzalez Cune, Nelson Perez Ardao, and the captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, ages unknown. Eight others — Iraelio Mengana Garcia, 47; Armando Garnado Martinez, 47; Humberto Iglesias Hernandez, 49; Antonio Perez Sadez, 37; Alfredo Porta Martinez, 43; Jose Consta Nalia, 46; George Herrera Aldana, 38; and Joaquin Ruiz De Zarate Arribas, 39 — survived the overturning of the vessel.
According to Lieutenant Commanding Operations of the Belize National Coast Guard, Gregory Soberanis, his headquarters received a distress call from the captain of the ship, Garcia, seconds before the vessel sank.
The sinking of the vessel, which was 74 meters (242 feet) in length and 11 meters (36 feet) in width, took place within a few minutes.
At the time of the distress call, the captain, who had contacted the Belize Coast Guard on channel 16, had explained that a lot of water had accumulated in the vessel, causing it to lean on the side, and there was a high threat it would go under. It eventually did go under. The survivors told local authorities that the waves had become aggressive, causing huge amounts of water to enter the vessel.
Meteorologist for the National Meteorological Service, Frank Tench, told us that the weather at midnight for the general area on Sunday was characterized by wind that was blowing east by north at 7 knots, a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and humidity of 81%.
At 4:55 p.m. on Sunday, the 8 Cubans arrived in Belize City on a water taxi and were greeted by Cuban Ambassador to Belize, Manuel Rubido, who also granted us an interview.
According to Rubido, at that time he did not have full details of what had transpired while the crewmen were on the seas. But he spoke of the search for the three missing members of the crew and expressed gratitude to “the Belizean authorities, [from] the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the head of the armed forces, who have all been doing their best to rescue the remaining members of the crew”.
Soberanis told us that the eight survivors had stayed afloat after losing their vessel via floating rafts. They were located by Belizean authorities about 1:10 a.m., just two hours after the overturning of the boat.
“The first four were found in good shape about 1½ miles east of Caye Caulker; the second set were a little shaken up; they seemed to be suffering from slight hyperthermia, and their raft was also getting water inside, so they were really relieved to see the Coast Guard,” Soberanis told us.
Soberanis explained to us that all such vessels are equipped with a device called the “epirb,” which sends out a signal to the satellites; the satellites then send a signal to American authorities, who then contacted them so that they could be given the exact location of the sinking ship.
According to Soberanis, the search involves the Belize Port Authority, with aerial coverage by the Belize Defense Force, along with assistance from other local boaters from Caye Caulker and San Pedro, who have all donated their time and effort to find the missing men.
We asked Soberanis whether he still has hopes of locating the three men alive, considering deteriorating weather conditions, and he remarked, “We are hoping that they are still alive; we are hoping for the best”.
The eight survivors are currently still in Belize City and have been allowed temporary stay in the country. The search continues for the three missing Cubans.
Coast Guard officials say there is still no trace of the men who went missing at sea on Sunday morning, when their ship, the Helga went down in rough waters beyond the reef.
The search ended at 6 P.M. today and will continue tomorrow. Except for a lot of debris from the 200 foot ship, there are no signs of life or the massive vessel itself.
We've gotten an email from the family of Captain Arturo Edreira Cuza, who is still missing. He is a father of two, and the family complains that the Cuban government did not allow the Captain's cousin to board the plane that is headed to Belize to return the surviving crew to Cuba. He wanted to come to Belize to assist in the search
As we've reported, eight of the crew from the Helga were saved and are being housed at the Cuban Embassy in Belize City. The men were transporting a cargo of salt from Mexico to Puerto Cortez, Honduras, a route they often travel.
< Within an hour of the search and rescue mission, at about 1:00 AM, four of the men onboard the vessel were found floating in an emergency inflatable raft (EIR) some two nautical miles from the southernmost point of the Caye Caulker Channel. Continued search and rescue efforts led to the rescue of four more men approximately 1½ nautical miles from the southernmost point of the Caye Caulker Channel sometime around 8:00 AM on Sunday. All eight survivors were transported to Caye Caulker Village where they received medical attention. All the survivors were found to be in good health. They were later accompanied by the Cuban Ambassador en route to Belize City.
Reports are that a total of 11 crew members were onboard the vessel, however as of press time, only eight were accounted for, namely: 47 year old Iraelio Mengana Garcia, 47 year old Armando Garnado Martinez, 37 year old Antonio Perez Sadez, 49 year old Humberto Iglesias Hernandez, 43 year old Alfredo Porta Martinez, 46 year old Jose Consta Nalia, 38 year old Jorge Herrera Aldana and 39 year old Joaquin Ruiz De Zarate Arribas. Still missing are Cuban Nationals Captain Arturo Edreira Cuza and crew members Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez.
San Pedro Sun