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Feb 27, 2009

Caribe Mariner and captain placed under arrest

Story PictureThe Caribe Mariner, a ship registered in Antigua and Barbuda, was locked off from dockworkers or stevedores at the Port of Belize this afternoon halfway through the loading of industrial goods and perishables such as papaya. The stevedores were told that they would be called back at a later date to resume the work. Shortly after being sent home, the ship’s captain Honduran National Whitman Gentle, was arrested and whisked off to the Queen Street Police Station. News Five’s Jose Sanchez found out what was happening at the Port.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
This afternoon work came to a halt aboard the ship Caribe Mariner at the Port of Belize. Fifteen stevedores were sent home, leaving almost half of the cargo waiting to be transported on the Ship. Reynaldo Guerrero, C.E.O. for Port of Belize, says his company was following orders from the Belize Ports Authority.

Reynaldo Guerrero, Chief Executive Officer, Port of Belize
“We have been issued a stop order by the Port Authority to seize all operations with regards to the Caribbean mariner because they have issued arrest warrant for the captain—his name is Whitman Gentle—because of an incident which happened with damage to the reef in November. That’s as far as we know. We have a letter that says please be informed that Caribe Mariner and her captain will be placed under arrest in relation to damaged caused to the Belize Barrier Reef in 2008. as a consequence, all cargo operations have been suspended until further notice.”

That order came from Major Lloyd Jones, Ports Commissioner for the Belize Port Authority.

Major Lloyd Jones, Ports Commissioner, Belize Port Authority
“On the twenty-first of November last year she went aground at western Turneffe in the English Caye are but across the Turneffe atoll. She was removed on the twenty-second and she was allowed to sail towards the United States. The Department of the Environment did their assessment as to the damages that were done and they have decided now to bring charges against the master and the ship itself.”

Jose Sanchez
“You had the captain arrested?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“Well, I didn’t have the captain or the master arrested, we act in support of the Department of the Environment and it is based on the complaint made by the Department of the Environment in support of that, we then with the police, had the master detained pending charges. I don’t believe he has been charged as yet.”

Jose Sanchez
“Okay, what will those charges be?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“I believe there will be charges of Damage to the Environment under section twenty-nine of the Environmental Protection Act.”

Jose Sanchez
“What is the estimated amount of damages you are seeking or believe was caused?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“Based on the report from the Department of the Environment, the claim against the ship is for ten point two million Belize dollars. The master will be charged similarly and if convicted, I understand that the penalty could be three times the assessed damage, which would be about thirty million Belize dollars.”

Guerrero says that the arrest of the captain and the halt of the work may have larger repercussions on the entire shipping industry.

Major Lloyd Jones
“We at the Port of Belize are shocked at the action because we are trying to understand the logic of it. We can understand when you take action on something when the ship is already completed and put on hold. But when you interrupt the work of something that seems to be contrary to the signals we get from Port Authority when we had equipment breakdown then it’s like a major even. And then here you have the same authority that’s asking for efficiency that’s turning around and saying hey, stop the work. We don’t understand it. I’m trying to understand but we don’t understand where the logic in this comes in. There is a cost. Every hour it’s there its costing electricity and there’s a charge to the shipping line.”

Jose Sanchez
“Mr. Gurerro says he did not see the logic in stopping the work of the stevedores taking the stuff off the ship. He’s saying it’s a but problematic, it’s gonna cost to have the refrigerators running. He’s saying that you could have just let them finish the job today and not stop in the middle.”

Major Lloyd Jones
“Well, the ship is under arrest and if the ship is under arrest then cargo operations cannot continue. I think that we have had appeals from the shipping agent, Caribbean Shipping, we’ve heard appeals from their lawyers saying can we please allow the cargo to be discharged from the ship and it will be put on another ship on Sunday. After we consulted with our legal advisor, we felt that there would be no harm in doing that and so I have since then given permission for cargo to be removed.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do you think it could be related to the case of the Westerhaven when the Captain actually just disappeared before they could arrest him? Maybe that’s why they could have done it in a harsh manner in this case?”

Reynaldo Guerrero
“That’s a possibility but I can’t interpret why they do it. Our point of view is that sometimes there are decisions made at a micro level that have impact at a macro level; more on a national scene. For example, in the case of the Westerhaven, we’ve lost that vessel. We’ve lost the vessel; the for that is no longer going through the port. That is now going through the Santa Thomasa Castilla and is being trucked through the western border. So the stevedores are not making money, pilateage and other revenues that would be made are not being made for that. Instead, Guatemalan drivers are making money for driving that cargo through to Melchor. Those are the concerns we have; that when you make decisions like this at a micro level without thinking, we wonder what the effect will be somewhere down the line. More so because a major decision was made to now put Belize in line and when they see the level of risk—we look at it from a risk point of view—when you see that level it makes us wonder whether these big lines will make a decision and say hey, those guys there… I don’t know what’s going to happen. So those are the concerns we have at the macro level.”

Major Lloyd Jones
“The Department of Environment, in this case, moved to have the captain charged and therefore, we arrested him. I think we learned from the Westerhaven case where there is delay on the part of the Department of Environment to bring charges, thus the captain was allowed to leave. I imagine that this will be the modus operandi from this point forward. When these things happened the master will be charged personally as well. There is an international convention that allows owners to limit their liability. Belize ratified that convention I believe in 1980 and it was domesticated just last December. So owners do have a right to limit their liability under that convention, which is what the owners of the Westerhaven chose to do and I imagine the owners of the Caribe Mariner will also do.”

Jose Sanchez
“Do you think we need to get rid of that particular act?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“Well, that is a question for the Belizeans people. If they are of the view that we cannot continue to sustain this kind of damage to the environment, then they need to make appeals to our political leaders to say we don’t want it.”

No matter what the outcome of the litigations for the Westerhaven and the Caribe Mariner, it is time for the public and the government to decide whether they want to protect the reef or protect the shipping industry. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

Whitman Gentle, the Captain of the Caribe Mariner is expected to be charged for damaging the reef. While he is locked up tonight, the original captain of the Westerhaven, Fritz Shroeder, skipped town before he could be arrested. The case of Westerhaven continues unresolved but we can report tonight that the ship has made bail. The owners of the ship, located in the Netherlands, secured its bond or a paper guarantee from a financial institution in the United States and the ship sailed out of Belize’s waters last Thursday without incident. But some of the cargo is still in Belize.

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