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May 31, 2000

Hijacking at sea leaves six dead

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It was the high seas equivalent of the Hummingbird Highway hijacking. Only this time there was no holdup–only gunfire. When it was over 5 passengers and the captain of a boat on its way from Puerto Barrios to Punta Gorda were dead, either drowned or shot by 3 gunman. The story unfolded on Tuesday afternoon as a boat belonging to the Requena family, the “Mariestela” was making the return voyage to Punta Gorda. Somewhere beyond Manabique Point 3 Hispanic men, believed to be Guatemalans, stood up and opened fire on the others. 2 of those hit were the Requena brothers, Julio Jr. and Ernesto. A passenger, Punta Gorda resident Larry Smith was shot in the back. Other passengers, including women and children, were thrown into the water. I’ve just returned from P.G. and the scene I found was not a pretty one. Although three people survived five did not and a sixth, Julio Requena Jr., is believed also to have drowned.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting

The Punta Gorda Hospital compound was crowded as family and friends of those passengers who are feared dead came out to the mortuary to see if any of the bodies found were that of their loved ones. While at this time the police and BDF would not reveal the identities of those that were found, News Five has learnt that among the dead are two Belizeans, a Honduran and Guatemalans. However as we witnessed the grim scene inside the hospital compound, family relatives of one of the Belizeans recognized one of the corpse as 47-year old Alicia Iretha.

Elsa Avilez, Niece

“It’s sad. We didn’t expect anything like this like again, because they come and my mother was told and lately my grandfather died and now my auntie (crying). I don’t know what they have done to us…we can’t take this. We can’t take all that is happening to us now.”

But as one family mourns the death of a loved one, a young lady who was on board the “Mariestela” is recuperating at the P.G Hospital. 21-year old Evolyn Rojas, a Belizean, was returning home to visit with her family. Rojas says the 3 men just opened fire on them.

Evolyn Rojas, Survivor

“The men they entered as passengers one sat in the front, one in the middle and one in the back, like they were already well planned. And all of a sudden, they just opened fire like nothing…like crazy, they just shoot.”

“We were about 20 minutes from Puerto Barrios, we were passing Livingston and there the 3 men just started to open fire, and started shooting at everybody.”

Jacqueline Woods

“They just stood up in the boat and opened fire? They didn’t say anything?”

Evolyn Rojas

“Exactly, they didn’t say anything, or asked anything, they just started to shoot like crazy. From there, I just jumped in the sea and try to swim far away from the skiff. And there were others, about 4 who didn’t get shot, they also jumped, but they died.”

“Well I just stayed far away from the skiff until I could get a life jacket to wear because I couldn’t stay like that. I couldn’t stay in the water without a life jacket, so I hurry get the jacket and put it on. Then I tried to see if I could get the rest of people, so that we can get together. But they were only about 6 persons who came close together and the rest didn’t want to come with us, and that’s why they died. But the rest who were with us, they got discouraged and just left behind, they didn’t have faith. I was also one who didn’t have faith too, but Mr. Larry and Mr. Requena helped me.”

Jacqueline Woods

“What did they keep on telling you?”

Evolyn Rojas

“Well they started to talk about my family, my baby, and everything, my goals that’s all.”

Rojas was hospitalized suffering with hypothermia and several stings she received from a swarm of jellyfish. So far of the 12 passengers on board, only 3 have been found alive. Presently the police and BDF are looking for the boat captain, 27-year old Julio Requena Jr.

Jacqueline Woods

“Are you in a position to comment about what kind of assistance is the Guatemalan Government giving at this time?

Colonel Cedric Borland, Belize Defence Force

“Yes what happened is that our government had contacted the Guatemalan authorities for assistance, particularly in the search and rescue. There have been 3 vessels launched from the Guatemalan authorities from Puerto Barrios. They were actually searching in their area of the sea. We haven’t had any reports, we just know that 3 vessels were out doing search from their location.”

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