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Jun 26, 2015

Well-known San Pedro Businessman Believed Drowned Near Belize City Port

Tonight, the family of San Pedro businessman Leovijildo Varela is bracing for the worse. On Thursday night, Varela and his crew were transporting three butane trucks on a tugboat from the island to the Belize City port when he was flung into the dark sea waters near the pier. The downpour in the past twenty-four hours as well as the rough sea conditions has been impeding search efforts.   Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

The search continues tonight for the body of eighty year old Leovijildo Pablo Varela of Varela’s Cargo Services Limited of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. Sometime after nine p.m. on Thursday, Varela was onboard a tugboat bringing into port a cargo from San Pedro to Belize City and as it neared the pier, the tugboat and the barge collided. The impact sent the elderly man overboard and into the Caribbean Sea. The police, paramedics and the Coastguard were called out to the scene where an investigation followed.

 

Arturo Vasquez

Arturo Vasquez, C.E.O., Port of Belize

“The police was here and they did their interviews, they took statements from the captain of the tug and also some of the crew members that were on the barge at the time. He is claiming that when he came in there was squall. But it was raining last night. And during that squall is when somehow….and it was rough. I was out here and the sea was extremely rough and they were losing control of the barge and they were heading towards the pier. And he tried to reverse to pull it away; that’s what I heard him telling the police. But that was impossible to do, maybe it was too rough, and it got pretty close to almost tipping over the tug. And so at that point, they decided that they needed to release the tug. But they released it in a way where once they release; they were trying to go around to sort of bump it away. And that’s when apparently they had a collision between the tug and the barge because there is obviously damage on the tug that I saw last night and during that impact is when Mister Varela fell over.”

 

Ensign David Ayala, On-Scene Coordinator for Search Efforts, BNCG

“At approximately nine-thirty-five, we received information at the Coastguard Headquarters whereby a tugboat pushing a barge collided on the king pier at the Port of Belize. Upon receiving the information, Coastguard deployed a vessel to start with the search efforts at the location.”

 

It’s now almost twenty-four hours since Varela went overboard and remains missing. According to On-Scene Coordinator for Search Efforts for the Belize National Coast Guard, Ensign David Ayala, divers have since been deployed to conduct surface operations.

 

David Ayala

Ensign David Ayala

“From last night, we kept the coastguard standby team here and this morning; we deployed a team of divers to conduct diving operations. Since last night we started with the surface operations so that has been conducting today.  For us, if he did drown on the spot, we would expect him to surface in approximately—the longest time—is seventy-two hours. So between that period, he should surface. Now if he died on impact or whatever, then we expect otherwise.”

 

Duane Moody

“We know that last night, the weather condition wasn’t most favorable. Would that cause you guys to expand your search beyond the port area?”

 

Ensign David Ayala

“Well if you can notice right now, the weather conditions are not the best right now, as you mentioned, and the currents and winds have an effect on the search that we are conducting. And most definitely we will expand from the immediate area expanding out into the open water.”

 

This is the second time that a barge has crashed into the pier at the Port of Belize compound, says C.E.O., Arturo Vasquez.

 

Arturo Vasquez

“There was an incident again; somewhat similar to what happened the last time where a barge had run into the pier. Fortunately this time, there was no damage to the pier, but unfortunately I understand a passenger on the barge—I think it is Mister Varela—apparently fell overboard and up to, what I am understanding, now, he has not been found. But what we saw when we got here really was that there was a barge lodged against the pier. I understand from the captain that it didn’t ran into the pier, but actually drifted into the pier so that was good news for then. So that was good news for then. So what we had to do from the Port position was to get the barge removed because it was banging against the pier. So we ended up getting some tugs to pull it away and we finished at sometime this morning. We had our engineer come in early this morning to take a look at the pier and he is satisfied that there was no damage to the pier like we had the last time; it is just minor surface concrete being chipped away and that kind of thing.”

 

The police have since taken statements from those onboard the tugboat as to what transpired.  Duane Moody for News Five.

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