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Apr 8, 2009

Billionaire’s yacht damages coral reef

Story PictureIn recent months two cargo ships, The WesterHaven and Caribe Mariner caused extensive damage when they ran aground on the reef and now there is a third case involving a luxury yacht that dropped its anchor on the reef on Monday night. A damage assessment has still not been concluded and Jose Sanchez followed the story today and found out some rather interesting and perplexing details.

Jose Sanchez
The family of Ricardo Salinas Pliego is listed on Forbes Magazine as the number one hundred and fifty-four top billionaire in the world. His net worth is estimated to be six point three billion dollars. Salinas Pliego is the owner of TV Azteca and his luxury yacht was cruising off the coast of San Pedro when it caused damage to the barrier reef. It is reported that Salinas was in Belizean waters on holiday.

Billy Leslie, President, Tour Guide Association
“We dispatched a second boat who came back and told us that yes the boat has an anchor in the water. We all know as boaters, that you never place an anchor on delicate coral reef ecosystem. I don’t care which part of the world you come to, when you take a captain exam to drive a boat you are thought not to place an anchor on a coral reef.”

Jose Sanchez
“They tell you not to even touch the reef with your finger”

Billy Leslie
“The reef is so delicate that we should not even touch it, we should not even brush sediments over it.”

Jose Sanchez
“You took some footage, right?”

Billy Leslie
“Yes, after noticing that he had dropped anchor, I quickly and immediately notified the Hol Chan Marine Reserve which represent the Fisheries Department, I notified the Belize Port Authority, I notified Mr. James Azueta of the Fisheries Department.”

The Fisheries Department sent out Miguel Alamilla who manages the Hol Chan Marine Reserve to do a preliminary investigation of the grounding.

Miguel Alamilla, Manager, Hol Chan Marine Reserve
“We assembled a team to go out there and look at what was happening. We verified that actually there was a large vessel anchored on the fore reef about fifty feet deep outside the reef in front of Ambergris Caye.

Jose Sanchez
“Did you learn how that ship got lodged on the reef?”

Miguel Alamilla
“Well yes, the captain threw the anchor on the reef and that’s how it got lodged. According to the captain, we interviewed the captain and he said that he was travelling along navigating and a rope got tangled into his propeller and the only option was to drop his anchor or he would have ended up on the reef crest.”

Billy Leslie
“Looking at the footage you could see how the humongous chain is just breaking away live coral. We just recently got a report in which our coral reef reports we are failing. More than half of our coral reef is in bad condition and now we have this humongous vessel from abroad come and drop an anchor with a long chain just damaging beautiful living reef and the worst part of it is it is right around one of our most famous dive site which was rated number one dive site in the country of Belize which is the Esmeralda Dive Site which has a lot of nurse sharks which we go and view and feed.”

Normally when a ship runs aground on the reef, the vessel would be arrested by the Port Authority and the Fisheries Department would conduct an assessment of damages to the reef. These agencies act under the leadership of the Department of Environment, which would push for prosecution. But the events apparently did not unfold that way.

Jose Sanchez
“Was he arrested?”

Miguel Alamilla
“He was detained. He was detained but he was not really arrested to say it that way during the investigation.”

Jose Sanchez
“So he was let go?

Miguel Alamilla
“Well, the Department of Environment is working along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Mexican Embassy to find a solution to this event.

Jose Sanchez
“Is he still detained?”

Miguel Alamilla
“No, he is not detained anymore. As I told you they are still liable for the damages they caused to the reef.”

Jose Sanchez
“And what did your assessment show?”

Miguel Alamilla
“We did an assessment yesterday afternoon, a rapid assessment actually. We did find that there was damage to the reef; an area of about twenty-eight meters by forty-five meters. And so there is coral damage, broken corals, boulders overturned and so forth. Depending on the results of our assessment, charges would be brought to the owners or captain of the vessel and they will probably have to pay a fine for the damages.”

The Fisheries Department says it did not get to complete its assessment and the Port Authority also says it did not get to arrest the yacht or its owner. Both agencies are perplexed and surprised to find out that the billionaire, the yacht and its captain have sailed back to Mexican waters without being charged.

Billy Leslie
“Well, I feel terrible. That was the saddest news I could ever heard. Not only the damage of the reef but now because they are important people it means that is ok? Let us turn this and say, what would have been done if that same vessel had done that in Cozumel, Playa del Carmen. Do you think they Mexican Government would have let them go? No way; they would have been in jail now and being facing a humongous fine. I think that we have to fine these people I don’t care if they are from TV Azteca, CNN or even Channel Five. If they damage our reef, we should fine them and take the money and place more in buoys so that we don’t get this damage again. This is the second vessel of the same magnitude on the same site that have done this damage and our government officials have just release them and let them go. I am super, super sad and I will not let this go like this.”

San Pedranos will not let the incident go either. All eyes are pointed to the Department of Environment to answer if a settlement was made and how was a settlement arrived at without the damage assessment report from the Fisheries Department. All calls made to D.O.E. remain unanswered. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

The Mexican Embassy says that they were informed of the event but they had no consultations with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the incident.


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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