Gypsy Queen goes aground on the reef

The "Gypsy Queen" on the reef
(Photo by Paul Stevens, M.D.)

On Wednesday, November 5, 1997, the Gypsy Queen, a catamaran owned by Philippe and Nadia Berthome of Mata Chica Beach Resort, was, according to her owners, totally destroyed when she went aground on the reef in Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The accident is under investigation by the Departments of Fisheries and the Environment.

In a letter from the Berthomes to San Pedro Mayor Alberto Nuñez the incident is explained:

"Dear Sir,

Through this medium, I take this opportunity to express my sincere apology for the lamentable accident that occurred on Wednesday, November 5, 1997 that ended with total destruction of our catamaran by the name of Gypsy Queen and the possibility of damage to our Great Barrier Reef. It is of great concern to me the extent of damage that was done and as a foreign investor in the Tourism Industry, I know and realize the pride Belizeans have in their natural heritage and somehow I also have this genuine pride and concern since this country is also a part of me.

The events occurred as follows:

1. On Wednesday November 5, 1997, the catamaran by the name of Gypsy Queen was sailing en route to Mata Chica Resort, when suddenly the winds died. Immediately, the engine was started, but to our misfortune both engines did not start. The second action was to throw the anchor, but before it got to the ground the vessel was already in the Reef.

2. Steps taken were very careful in not damaging the Reef. I admire the interest and worry everyone had in that the main concern was the Reef. The vessel was finally anchored so as to prevent any damage. Flotation was done inside with drums, tubes and float bags so as to stabilize the boat and also a path of buoys was established so no further damage could be done. The fuel tank was also covered for the safety of no fuel spill. Local assistance and knowledge of the reef was employed along with local boats. When pulling out the boat a Polly Pro rope was used so as to prevent any further damage. Once boat was removed after 5 days of hard work since to my astonishment there was no one in Belize properly equipped for these kinds of accidents, the area was cleaned of any debris.

3. Finally, the boat was taken to a safe place and attempts are going to be made for the boat to be taken to Belize City and have it out of the water.

As you can imagine, this nightmare was something unexpected, my loss cannot be compared to the possibility of damage done to The Great Barrier Reef. I would like once again to extend my sincere apologies to your government and the people of Belize.

I remain at your consideration for anything further.
/s/ Nadia and Philippe Berthome"

During the days that the boat was on the reef, Hol Chan rangers, officers from Fisheries and DOE (Department of the Environment) officials viewed the wreckage. Alberto Pat, biologist at Hol Chan Marine Reserve prepared a damage assessment of the reef. Pat says approximately 9,600 square feet of pristine corals were damaged. Pat says that the Hol Chan staff will attempt the costly and time consuming process of cementing the damaged corals back into place.

James Azueta, of Fisheries commented that boats going on the reef is a common occurrence, that accidents at sea happen. "Unfortunately," said Azueta, "this accident was in the Hol Chan Reserve." Azueta also commented that the owners of the Gypsy Queen made efforts to minimize the damage - the boat was pulled out the same way it went in.

Biologist Pat's report and Azueta's report of the accident have been forwarded to Chief Environmental Officer Ismael Fabro. It is expected the DOE will complete its investigation by month's end.

During the Belize City TV coverage of the event, it appeared that one reporter was reporting while in the water - standing on a coral head. We hope he was reporting from the beach.

Gypsy Queen goes aground on the reef

Copyright 1997, San Pedro Sun. Design by Casado Internet Group

San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize News