Luxury yacht drops anchor on Barrier Reef

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 14            April 9, 2009

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Luxury Yacht “Azteca” anchored on the reef.

The heavy chain to which the anchor is attached damaged the fragile coral system.

Eckhart was escorted to the Police Station.

On Tuesday, April 7th, a three story, luxury yacht flying a Bermudan flag from the Caribbean was impounded and its captain detained after it anchored on the reef directly east of San Pedro Town. According to reports the vessel, named Azteca, dropped anchor within meters of the reef early Tuesday morning in a depth of about 35 feet of water. Tour operators immediately notified Hol Chan Marine Reserve who in turn contacted the relevant authorities. Law enforcement officers including members from the Department of Environment (DOE), San Pedro Police, Immigration, Customs and The Belize Coast Guard were dispatched to the area where the captain, 49-year-old Mexican, Salvador Villeras Eckart who resides in Cancun, Mexico was detained.

        Eckart told authorities that he was heading into Belizean waters a few miles off the reef when ropes got caught up in the propellers of the vessel. According to Eckart the engine on the vessel automatically shut down and the vessel took a turn for the reef. To avoid a direct impact on the reef, Eckart stated that they decided to use the anchors to bring the vessel to a stop. The anchors ripped through a large area of the reef before coming to a stand still, however a constant northeasterly wind kept moving the vessel moving in different locations causing further damage.

        Chief Environmentalist in the Department of Environment (DOE), Martin Alegria explained to The Sun that a prohibition to sail order was issued on the vessel after which it was taken to Port Authority Headquarters in Belize City. Azteca remains grounded at that location until the matter is settled. On Tuesday, DOE sent a team of technicians to assess the damage caused by the vessel which they will assess and calculate the damage in real dollars. Should the owners of the vessel refuse to settle the matter; it will be taken to court. 

        Unconfirmed reports allege that the yacht is owned by Ricardo Benjamín Salinas Pliego, considered one of the world’s richest men and owner of Azteca Television based in Mexico. The San Pedro Sun understands that Pliego and his family intended to stay in Belize for the Easter holiday after which he was scheduled to travel to Livingston, Guatemala.
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