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Mar 22, 2011

Belize Coastguard still hopes to find missing Cuban sailors

All day today the Belize Coast guard scoured the waters near Caye Caulker in search of three Cuban salt traders. Eight were rescued but Captain Arturo Edrei Garcia, Nelson Perez Ardao and Alexis Gonzalez Cune have not been located since their vessel sunk near the reef just before midnight on Saturday. The vessel, Helga, is a Panamanian flagged vessel, leased by the Cubans who were heading from Mexico to Honduras with a cargo of salt. According to the Belize Coast Guard, even though the clock is ticking, they are still hopeful that the men are alive. News Five’s Delahnie Bain reports.

Delahnie Bain, Reporting

The cargo vessel, Helga, capsized and sank in rough waters late Saturday night a few miles east of Caye Caulker. Eight Cuban nationals were rescued and today the Belize Coast Guard and divers continue searching a thirty square mile area near the reef for the ship’s captain and two crew members, who are still missing.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer, Belize Coast Guard

Gregory Soberanis

“The commandant has instructed that we continue with the search efforts for two main reasons; one: the incident occurred within our internal waters close to two of our main islands and close to the reef along with the many mangrove islands in the surrounding areas. And two: because of all the debris that we found including life jackets, the possibility of survival still exists. So as a result the search efforts continue at this time.”

The Operations Officer of the Belize Coast Guard says he spoke to one of the rescued men on Monday and got details of their near death experience.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“The individual told us that the weather conditions were terrible at the time, as we knew before. He said they were trying to reach on the western side of Turneffe to shield from the weather. The ship, as I had mentioned earlier, was taking on a lot of water. When they realized they were unable to reach Turneffe to shield from the weather, they tried to turn towards the mainland. Attempting to do that, and realizing they would not be able to make it to mainland because he said the boat or vessel leaned to one side and eventually began to turn over. It was at that point that they made the decision to abandon ship. So they had to actually jump off the ship and it was quite a horrifying experience as it seemed as though the ship was going to come on top of them. So they practically swam away and he mentioned to us that in about ten minutes time the ship went under, the ship sunk. So it was quite an ordeal for these men.”

But while in the waters, the men were separated and only eight of the eleven made it onto the life rafts.

Lt. Jr. Grade Gregory Soberanis

“The abandon ship procedures was that three of them would have radios; the captain, the second mate and the individual that we spoke to yesterday. He said he eventually lost his radio because the waves, sea conditions were extremely rough. He said upon entering the water, they called each other out by name to get accountability that all personnel were accounted for. But upon entering the life raft, they realized that the three individuals were not amongst them.”

Delahnie Bain for News Five.

When eight out of the original group of eleven Cuban nationals were rescued on Sunday morning, they were released to the Cuban ambassador, Manuel Rubido.

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