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Mar 16, 2020

SP Water Taxi & ADO Bus Return to Port Amid COVID-19 Concerns

On Sunday, the government announced that it was stepping up its control measures at the ports of entry.  A ban was imposed prohibiting the nationals of China, Hong Kong, Iran, Japan, South Korea, and Europe, including the United Kingdom, as well as persons, who have traveled to these countries within the last thirty days, from entering the country.  Just hours before that release was issued, a boat carrying tourists from COVID-19 infected region was returned to its departure point.  It involved a San Pedro Water Taxi carrying almost fifty passengers, who were tourists from several countries, including from the European region. That vessel wasn’t permitted to dock, nor were passengers allowed to disembark. The boat was eventually escorted back into Mexican waters. The decision was made by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. He told the press today that he made the call based on information that three of the passengers on the boat were showing symptoms and that they were also refused passage on the ADO bus earlier that day.  The Belize Coast Guard also had a hand in the return of the vessel. Here’s how the sequence of events took place.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Three Europeans had tried to come into Belize from Chetumal via ADO and they obviously showed some symptoms because the ADO personnel refused to let them on the bus. That’s what I was told and then they ended up coming on the San Pedro – Chetumal ferry. But the manifest was sent and whatever checks were done and so the fact that these three persons that had already been refused permission to board the ADO buses were on the ferry. I gave immediate instructions that they were not to be allowed to disembark. Initially, I thought these were three foreigners and that perhaps the rest of the passengers were Belizeans. I was told no; every single one is a foreigner. Then I said nobody is to come off that vessel. They were kept initially in the lagoon by the Coast Guard. They were sent to intercept them but initially I was told that the port in Chetumal had closed. There was the humanitarian concern – children were on board and it was late in the evening. I was told that the waters in the bay would be choppy and so I thought the better course would be to keep them at the lagoon, get food up to them and get fuel and send them back up in the morning, especially since there was a chance that if they were escorted back the same night they wouldn’t be allowed to dock at the port in Chetumal. By the time I relayed that message, I was told that the Coast Guard was twenty-minutes into the return journey. I said no, turn back around because I am not going to have children endangered on our watch but then within two minutes, C.E.O. Enriquez called me and said that the people in the port at Chetumal had called and said it is fine that they will open and bring them. We will take them off and do the screen and take care of everything.”

 

On the Phone: Elton Bennett, Commander, Belize Coast Guard

“All passengers on board were foreign nationals from Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe. They expressed the concern that they were trying to communicate with the vessel and the vessel and persons had insisted that they wanted to reach San Pedro via the water taxi. We were then called in to assist with the situation. Our patrol from station deployed out and went there along with agencies and secure the scene. We received a directive later on through our channel that we are supposed to escort the vessel back to Chetumal. It wasn’t a long period of time after that we told them exactly what our mission was, that it was to prevent them from going on shore in San Pedro. They agreed and complied with that request. We escorted them from San Pedro which would have been some time around six-thirty last night and we escorted them to the boundaries between the Belize-Mexico border, just past Consejo and we watched them go off into Mexico. The entire journey took us about two hours and it was a pretty safe mission and then patrol returned back to San Pedro.”

 

The San Pedro water taxi issued a press release on its Facebook to say that its vessel, the MV International Star, was on its regular run when it returned to San Pedro on Saturday afternoon. The release says that neither their crew nor border officials at the border point informed them that the sixteen passengers were previously denied access to Belize.  While there were reports that the boat refused to depart when it was denied from docking, San Pedro Belize Express denies this, “San Pedro Belize Express in no way refused to return with the passengers. We simply needed to ensure that the proper procedures were in place prior to departing into foreign waters and encountering even more issues.”


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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