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Jun 11, 2015

Environmental Damages to be Assessed In Wake of Grounding

So here are the facts – a Guatemalan vessel is in Belizean waters, but preliminary investigations are that it is not a voluntary presence. Mike Rudon was on the site today and has the story.


Mike Rudon, Reporting

Here’s something we’ve never seen before and may never see again – a sixty-five foot Guatemalan naval gunboat perched high and dry on our reef. The vessel actually ran aground at exactly 11:23 Wednesday night between Long Caye and Middle Caye in the Glover’s Reef system. Park rangers and Fisheries Department personnel stationed on the island heard the sound of an engine revving, and then a loud crash. They took a small boat nearby to investigate, and once they determined that the vessel was Guatemalan, they called in the Coast Guard.

Elton Bennett

Commander Elton Bennett, Belize National Coast Guard
“We commenced our deployment. We deployed to this location and we arrived here before sunrise this morning and commenced the initial investigations. We went aboard the vessel; we informed the Guatemalan navy of our plans and what we intended to do, which is the process of doing a marine causality investigation. The Guatemalan navy informed us that they had a failure with the system. It was two vessels travelling together; they claim that they were moving from Puerto Barrios to Isla Mujeres, Mexico when the power system failed and they lost control of one of the vessels that they eventually ran into Glover’s Reef. We have confirmed with our Mexican counterparts that yes indeed it was a legitimate move from the Guatemalan navy and they were expecting them in Mexico. Onboard  the two vessels were officer cadets from the Guatemalan Naval Academy along with their instructors who were on that exercise.”

Upon approaching the vessel, the Coast Guard made radio contact, and then advised the Captain that they would board. They encountered no aggression, and no indication of hostile intent, just two senior officers, cadets and training officers, thirteen persons total.


Elton Bennett
“I spoke to the Captain onboard and I asked him what the situation was or what his intentions were and right away he said that he had an accident and they were moving towards Mexico. They were calm and after establishing radio communication I realized that it was now safe for me to go onboard and I informed them that I would be boarding your vessel and we did that. We went onboard. They were courteous; they were not hostile at all. We went onboard and we started dialogue from there.”


From what the Coast Guard has been able to determine, the grounded vessel was travelling with another similar vessel when it experienced mechanical problems. Today the second vessel was anchored some distance away, but it is not a concern for the Coast Guard. Belize’s territorial seas extend out twelve miles from where we were today, but naval vessels from any other country are able to transit and claim innocent passage.


Elton Bennett
“When we arrived at this location, the other patrol vessel was well outside. The first patrol that arrived here confirmed that yes it was two vessels and they were well outside the reef. They were in international waters. While they were in Belizean territorial waters and they were claiming innocent passage of transiting Belize territorial seas.”



“What exactly does innocent passage means?”


Elton Bennett
“It allows military vessels to traverse outside of the baseline of the country. As long as that transit is continuous and expeditious, it is innocent passage on certain conditions that the guns are covered. As you can see onboard the vessel, the guns are covered and they are not allowed to stop, anchor or conduct any exercise or any military activity.”


The Coast Guard remained on board the vessel today, awaiting a team from Belize City and Belmopan, including personnel from the Department of the Environment, to conduct an assessment of reef damage.


Elton Bennett
“We are waiting for members of the marine casualty investigation team, which comprises of the Department of Environment along with Fisheries, the Belize Coast Guard and the Port Authority. Once those investigators reach on scene, what we will do is an initial dive to do an assessment of the damage done to the reef as is. The vessel will then be removed and the investigators will conduct another dive to do an assessment to see the damage caused when the vessel was pulled off the reef and also the damage caused from where the vessel stood initially.”


The timeline for removing the vessel from the reef is uncertain. According to Borland, the Guatemalans have sought assistance from the other patrol boat, and if that is not strong enough they will then contemplate using tugboats. The vessel will be treated the same as any other civilian, commercial vessel which would run aground on the reef. That may or may not require the detention of the persons on the vessel, but Bennett does not believe it will come to that.


Elton Bennett
“That’s the reason why we are doing the assessment; to look at the damages caused and I am sure that then I’m sure between the Foreign Ministries they will be making arrangements for any compensation.”



“Sir, this means therefore that the captain of this vessel must be detained.”


Elton Bennett
“Umm…it depends on what the investigation shows. If it is negligence on their part and if he would refuse to accept that he is at fault or responsibility and if there is a need to detain him in Belize, then we will take that route.”


Today, with the permission of the Coast Guard, a small Columbian type Guatemalan military vessel circled nearby just for the purposes of observation. Mike Rudon for News Five.


The Coast Guard will remain on station until the vessel is removed from the reef.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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