Summerwind eludes charges

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 22            June 2, 2005

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The San Pedro Sun has learned that no charges have been pressed yet, in the ongoing pursuit against the luxury yacht ‘Summerwind’ that caused extensive damage to the second largest barrier reef in the world. The question as to why the 145 foot, three story, lavish sailing boat was able to set sail without any charges being filed to date, is still in question.

    The Sun contacted Department of the Environment (DEO) Chief Executive Officer, Ismahel Fabro, to find out what had transpired when lawyers representing the vessel were to meet with the DOE in an effort to settle matters out of court. Fabro commented that the meeting never happened. Sources revealed the name of the local law firm said to represent the vessel, but when The Sun contacted the firm they mentioned that they were never formally retained and therefore asked not to be named in this article. Fabro also explained that the DOE was in pursuit of looking to the International Marine Organization (IMO) for assistance in bringing charges against the yacht ‘Summerwind’. When asked why the DOE did not contact the Marshall Islands, the flag under which the luxury liner was sailing and whose offices are in New York, The Sun was told that they had made no contact yet with Belize. Fabro also commented that they were seeking help from the IMO in order to serve a ‘summons’ so that charges could be pressed.

    To get a clearer understanding of how maritime law really works and what were the chances of any charges being issued at all, The San Pedro Sun contacted the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize (IMMARBE) and spoke with its Director, Mr. Angelo Mouzouropoulos, who was extremely helpful, explaining that in order to bring charges against the ship, and before any charges could be launched, the DOE has to first order an economic evaluation assessment of the damage done to the reef. Once that is established the DOE can then file a claim to the IMO who would then contact the vessel and its owners. Without that claim nothing can be done. Mouzouropoulos felt assured that once a value was determined to the extent of damage inflicted to the reef the IMO would then charge the boat. Mouzouropoulos also stated that the Port Authority was correct in issuing a “Prohibition of Sailing Order” but that documents should have been arrested, meaning all ship papers and passports should have been seized.

    On April 7th, when the story first broke, The Sun spoke to Melanie McField who had conducted an assessment of the reef, but when she was contacted it was discovered that her assessment was only an environmental estimate and that the DOE said they would get in touch with her again. McField explained that this never happened. The Sun also discovered that a second environmental evaluation assessment had been conducted by the Meso American Barrier Reef System. Until an economic evaluation can be made the DOE will not be able to proceed with litigation.

    In an interview with Miguel Garcia, a Synoptic Monitoring Specialist with the Meso American Reef System, The Sun learned that he was the person who did the environmental assessment, and speaking through a translator, he explained that he is qualified to do an economic evaluation but that the DOE did not request it.

    Other sources hinted to the fact that maybe the San Pedro Police were at fault. After speaking with P.C.Gerald Sutherland, who originally questioned the Captain of the vessel, Hussain Adam, The Sun was told that the police could not make an arrest since no charges were pressed. The major authority in this matter was the Department of the Environment.
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