Yacht damages reef

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 14            April 7, 2005

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On Tuesday, March 29th, at approximately 8:20 a.m., mishap struck the second largest barrier reef in the world. One of Belize’s most valuable assets, the barrier reef, has been damaged due to neglect of foreign elements. The 145-foot luxury yacht ‘Summerwind,’ captained by Hussain Adam, 39 years old of Maldives, entered Belizean waters on March 16th. The trip was intended to be purely pleasure but ended in creating major damage to the reef. Despite the fore warnings given by the Port Authority and the shipping agent, Eurocaribe, the lavish, three-story yacht anchored in front of San Pedro Town, several days after hitting Belizean waters.

    On Tuesday, March 29th, the ‘Summerwind’ moved from its safe anchor harbor in front of San Pedro Town to a location on the outer edge of the reef, where most local scuba diving takes place. San Pedro is one of the most frequented diving areas in the world and one the most thriving industries on Ambergris Caye. The luxury yacht released a very large anchor with approximately two hundred feet of chain down to an estimated seventy-foot depth. In the process, the chain dismantled a large section of coral and as it descended the swinging motion, from side to side, continued to break off more sections of hard and soft coral and sponges.

    A spokesperson for Summerwind told the San Pedro Sun “They moved the boat due to a low tide situation with high wind and there was a fear that the diesel tanks which are located on the very bottom of the yacht could potentially burst if the shallow water allowed the boat to hit any obstruction. With a boat of all fiberglass construction a punctured tank could prove fatal to the entire crew as it would literally burst into flames. Besides this potentially life threatening situation there was of course the fear of the eco-damage that could also occur. In other words in an attempt to do the right thing and avoid a potential problem another was caused.”

    Billy Leslie, President of the San Pedro Tourist Guide Association (SPTGA), was the first to notice the infraction caused by the luxury yacht. At approximately 9:00 a.m., Mr. Leslie alerted the San Pedro Police Department, the Hol-Chan Marine Reserve staff, and Belize Fisheries. About an hour later, the captain of the vessel, Hussain Adam, was escorted by police to the new San Pedro Police Station for questioning. Adam was then asked to visit the Hol-Chan Marine Reserve Office and speak with the Fisheries officers, which he did not comply. The captain went back to his boat and the vessel remained anchored the rest of the day and night.

    On Wednesday morning, March 30th, the ‘Summerwind’ removed its anchor off the reef and came back to safe harbor. Later that same day, the authorities of the Hol-Chan Marine reserve escorted one of the crewmembers to their office where he was interrogated.

    San Pedro Tourist Guide Association with the assistance of Ched Cabral of (Reef Adventures), Andy Garcia and Manuel Pech of (Amigos del Mar), and a concerned American tourist, Dan Brisco ventured to the site at about 2:00 p.m. on the same day and witnessed major sections of damage to the coral reef. The area where the destruction took place measures about two hundred feet north to south and approximately two hundred and fifty feet east to west.

    The spokesperson for Summerwind told the San Pedro Sun, “Summerwind’s attitude was that a 48 hour timeframe existed in which Summerwind was to be formally charged. That period came and went with no action from any of the GOB’s offices. Captain Adam visited Belize City and Belmopan at his own expense to verify what he could do, if anything, to help rectify the situation. He was notified of the 48 hour window from the GOB’s offices that he visited. He was told by the boat’s management company that after the 48 hour window passed they were free to leave as they wished. They did so using the normal exiting procedures and didn’t “disappear.” They also paid $700 per day, along with other taxes, to the ports authority here and followed every rule and instruction that was given them.”

    The interesting aspect of the unfortunate mishap is that according to the Belize Port Authority and Eurocaribe Shipping Service, who acted as the shipping agent for the luxury yacht at the request of the Port of Authority, is that the ‘Summerwind’ was pre-warned about the rules and regulations when entering Belizean waters but ignored all warnings. Mike Williams, owner and Managing Director of Eurocaribe told The Sun that the captain told him that they had anchored in seventy feet of water inside the reef. In his interview, Mr. Williams asked The Sun, “Do you know of any part inside the reef where there is seventy feet of water?” He went on to state that his company has in the meantime relinquished their services with the yacht with an incurred debt of about $5,000 Bz.

    According to Melanie Mc Field, who works with the World Wildlife Fund and is a local reef scientist for the Meso-American Reef Eco Project, and who is doing an in depth assessment on the damage created by the luxury vessel, that it will take approximately a hundred years for the damage to repair itself.

    On Saturday, Pepe Garcia, an independent environmentalist, who was accompanied by Ismahel Fabro, Chief Environmental Officer with the Department of the Environment and Nicole Cho, an attorney with the Department of the Environment, and he assured that the Government of Belize would file a lawsuit against the ‘Summerwind’ and its owners.

    Mr. Leslie ended his interview by stating that the SPTGA would like to see that who ever is responsible taken to court and prosecuted for this tremendous damage. The SPTGA is demanding that all appropriate authorities take the proper actions against such careless destruction and that high fines be set. He suggests that the money be used to purchase ropes, pins, buoys and an underwater drill set so that a proper anchorage area can be designated to prevent such damage.

    Major (retired) Gilbert Swaso, Chief Operations Officer with the Port Authority of Belize informed The San Pedro Sun that the Port Authority of Belize issued an order for the ‘Summerwind’ to stay in Belize until the matter was resolved but further investigation indicated that the vessel has disappeared from the San Pedro area and rumors are that the boat might be headed for Placencia or Half-Moon Caye.

    The Summerwind spokesperson said as of April 7, the Summerwind is in Honduras and from there will sail to Florida.

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