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Jan 21, 2010

2 months after grounding; the Great Escape still lodged at the reef

great escape vesselOn November thirtieth another vessel was added to the cadre of foreign vessels that have navigated into the reef. The Great Escape an eighty-five foot luxury yacht, like its predecessors the Westerhaven and the Azteca, has crashed on Belize’s priceless barrier reef. All accounts say that the yacht’s owner did not check in with any authorities as is prescribed when they enter Belizean waters, and the vessel appeared to be leaving when it ran smack into the reef.  Three government arms, the Coastguard, the Fisheries Department, and the Department of Environment have been working on the case.  The expensive vessel has the best navigational instruments and the incident has the appearance of human error.  But why is it still lodged on the reef tonight? A News Five crew of reporter Jose Sanchez and cameraman Christopher Mangar joined the Fisheries Department as it examined the Great Escape.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve was established in1996.  It is the southernmost part of the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site.  Unlike the previous vessels that have come before, two months after running aground, a luxury yacht is still wreaking havoc on the corals. After the Coastguard received the distress call, the Manager of the reserve assisted in the rescue of the yacht passengers.

Dennis Garbutt

Dennis Garbutt

Dennis Garbutt, Manager Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve

“Myself with the Fisheries vessel and some of the Coast Guard members then came back out to assist the people because we had radio contact with them and were talking with them. They had two ladies on board. They were mostly older people and quite a bit of pets; cats and dogs and things like that. We were basically going back to take off a couple of the people who wanted to come off the boat and didn’t want to spend the night on it. They had Mr. Al, the captain of the boat at the time, the owner of the vessel; he reported that he has some heart problem so he would prefer to be ashore so we escorted them ashore. Probably about one-thirty the following day on the first of December, the Port Authority along with DOE came by along with two Coast Guard personnel and interviewed Mr. Al. We escorted him back to the ship where they did an inspection.”

The yacht which is registered in the British Virgin Islands is ironically named The Great Escape.  The Marine Protected Areas Coordinator for the Fisheries Department was on site today to examine the damage done to the reef.

Isais Majil, Marine Protected Areas Coordinator, Fisheries Department

“We have received reports that the damage area is about one hundred and sixty feet by thirty feet. We have not done a comprehensive assessment to point to which species of coral were damaged and what was the habitat that was in the area. We are here to actually conduct that assessment at this time.”

Jose Sanchez

“Okay, but your assessment cannot be completed until the vessel is moved. Is that correct?”

Isais Majil

“Yeah, to have a very comprehensive and full assessment we need vessel to be removed so that we can actually pinpoint what was underneath and what is being crushed, the different species that actually are there. If that does not happen, what we can do is to do some assessments on both sides of the vessel and extrapolate to see that—well, we kinda picture that what is on the side is the same habitat underneath the vessel.”

But while the vessel continues to pummel the reef as it is hit by outgoing waves, fuel has leaked into the most protected part of the reserve called Conservation Zone One.

Isais Majil

“A very, very pristine area and that’s why it’s given that category of protection. In this area we do not allow any type of extraction, meaning that the fishermen cannot use it. We only allow snorkeling and diving with strict guidelines.”

Jose Sanchez

“Whose responsibility is it to see that the vessel is removed being that the owner is not here?”

Isais Majil

Isais Majil

Isais Majil

“The first call comes for the vessel’s removal and safeguard is from Port Authority.  When it comes to the biological assessment then the Department of Environment jumps in and the Fisheries Department also does the biological assessments. Everybody knows there is a decline in coral reef in the region. Belize is no exception so we need to protect what we have and every day we need to protect it more and more.”

Jose Sanchez

“The Fisheries Department can levy charges but you prefer to have the DOE put the charges why is that?”

Isais Majil

“The Fisheries ACT, which we use to create the marine reserves at its creation in 1977, the penalties are very low. So for damage on a marine reserve the most we could charge would be up to a thousand dollars. DOE, having revised their act and having more power to put higher penalties, we work with them so that these penalties can go as high as possible and at the same time we are working that these fines come back to try and  restructure the and replenish the areas that are damaged.”

But there is a great escape in the story as the owner of the vessel Albert Barcroft was allowed to leave the country without any charges against him.  According to Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer for the D.O.E., they let him go because of his failing health.

Via Phone: Martin Alegria, Chief Environmental Officer, D.O.E.

“Apparently on the way to Placencia when we were bringing them in, the captain

suffered some form of heart problem that became complicated. We didn’t’ want to have a situation on our hands and after he explained to the team that he needed and was scheduled for some heart surgery and stuff like that and he did appear bad. So we did this using our own discretion. We had worked with him and conversed with him on the situation and told him that we were thinking of having him go to Guatemala where he would have attended to the situation before he gets more complicated here and as soon as we have the time to go and remove the boat and do the assessment we would be touching base with him in order for him or his insurance to address the damage caused to the barrier reef.”

Dennis Garbutt

“I personally didn’t witness any heart attack. However, when they took off on the thirtieth of November, they were supposed to take them to Belize City for charges. That would have been the entire crew and everybody that was involved in this incident were basically taken to Belize City for that. However, on the way Mr. Al had a heart attack or a heart condition and they had to take him into Placencia where he received some basic treatment.”

Barcroft is gone but the Department of the Environment is still in contact with his insurance company. A first attempt to remove the vessel by a local contractor has failed.  All stakeholders involved agree that it is the world heritage site that needs a great escape from the careless onslaught by foreign vessels.

Jose Sanchez

“The debris from the wreckage is now reaching islands such as Regget Caye.  It highlights the importance for the Department of Environment to act quickly. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.”

The Department of the Environment’s assessment is almost complete, but whether or not Albert Barcroft will be located… that’s another matter.

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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13 Responses for “2 months after grounding; the Great Escape still lodged at the reef”

  1. Isiah says:

    It’s a shame that Government can’t even remove or afford a removal of a vessel from the Reef. Isn’t preserving the Reef more important? Who will be responsible for damges made while the vessel remained on the Reef? Authorities seem very concern about the beauty and value of our precious Reef; but are more ready to give their opinion and assement or how much money can be collected. Personally, I believe that there should be a strategic plan for incidents like this. It has happened more than ounce; therefore, I strongly believe that their are a lot of “check collectors” rather professional employees.

  2. evy says:

    When will they act? When the reef disappears and we are left without anything? Move that thing off our reef!

  3. john says:

    Have the police dept or the dept in charge removed and impound the boat, if the owner does not show to pay the damages — do an auction to sale the boat to the highest bid to cover the costs.
    Stipulate a date, if not met, sale, the boat to care for the reef.

  4. ian says:

    I think that Belizeans should start taking better action against these kind of people. If something like this happens in the US and it is a foreigner who does it, he or she will be jailed and charged. Stop letting Americans think that they own the world and can do whatever they want. It is about the second time and all we do is send them back to the US. Show an example for God sake.

  5. ian says:

    Take away the vessel before more harm is done to our reef.

  6. bas says:

    well first of all its not how quickly its removed is the ability to monitor these accidents and preventing others. Belize is not a rich and wealth country and am sure most of all who comment about being able to afford it must not have an idea that its easier said than done. I do agree with removing it and impound the vessel and still put a warrant for the arrest of that idiot with the international court justice.

  7. todd says:

    Accidents do happen, but the blatant disregard and environmental impact to our reef is the big cruise ship operators, who are lining many of our peoples pockets with big bucks$$, Lets all be a little more green and sensitive. Dont throw stones at the few cruisers that pass through when we allow 100s of thousands of people to destroy our reef by all the cruise ships and reef charters.

  8. lany says:

    Everything about this situation is unacceptable. The foreigner got a away, the vessel is still lodged at reet after 2 whole months, and the media had to visit this place in order for “some ” action be taken. I wonder at times how our government thinks and how some of them go to sleep knowing that making f non belizean come in this beautiful jewels of ours and do as they please. I know for a factor if a belizean was the guilty in the story he would have been behinds bars, unless if course he is friend and company of the present government. Why o it seems that non belizean can just come and do as they please and guess what nothing is nothing. Should we wait until all our Natural Resources are Kaput before we do something Belizean??? So much coruption, and let me guess they are unable to find the “:sick” captain who need medical treatment abroad. Another non- belizean wrecking our country and got away. Kudos to the Government that was voted in to protect and preserve out Nation. Job Well done Dean….

  9. Concerned Belizean says:

    I agree with Ian’s First comment, we do need to make an example of someone. I most definitely agree with bas comments, it is easier said than done. Isaiah you have no idea so I suggest you do some research before you comment… to John, its not the Police Dept.

    There is a strategic way in dealing with these issue but sometimes finacial resource is a problem for any Government so collecting from these idiots who think they can navigate the world and get away with anything, is important for the protection of the reef. Think before you write and leave you political beef aside, it will make you talk BS.

  10. Roy says:

    And the tragedy continues …

    The remains of the boat are now floating and adrift in the Bay of Honduras. A very real hazard to small boat navigation at night.

  11. John Doe says:

    I am an American and know Al Barcroft personally. The reason he named his yacht “Great Escape” is because he fled the U.S. because the I.R.S. was after him for tax evasion. Al is a very smart man and that is why I believe he successfully faked his heart attack on the way to Belize. They would’ve found out about his “great escape” and would’ve possibly be looking at extradition back to the U.S. Look it up on google, you’ll find all the tax records of Albert L. Barcroft there…

  12. I doubt that. says:

    I’m a Texas citizen and have known Al and Pam a long time. I haven’t talked to either of them in a number of years but at one time I talked to them almost daily and visited their home many times studying law and even doing work for them around their estate.

    I’d be very shocked if the government ever went after them for evasion. Sure a fed prosecutor can get indictments because a grand jury will pretty much rubber-stamp anything a prosecutor put under their noses. But getting a guilty verdict from a jury against someone like Al would be extremely and the feds would know this, which is why I don’t think they’d ever even pursue it.

    So you ask why I say this? Because tax evasion demands the element of *intent*. The question would be not be if AL did or did not pay federal income taxes, but whether or not he believed he was required to do so. And I can assure you, anyone and everyone who knows Al and Pam know for a 110% fact that they not only believe they are not required, but the KNOW they are not required, and there’s not a jury on the planet that would fail to believe their testimony.

    Just because you don’t understand the degree of the deception that’s been perpetrated on the citizens of the several states, that doesn’t mean that everyone else continues to live in ignorant bliss. If they fled the country because they didn’t want to face the possibility that the federal crime syndicate might come after them using strong-arm tactics by railroading them with false evidence and false witnesses, more power to them. Who in their right mind wants to face the full force of the evil spirit which exists in the hearts of the men and women in high places within the illegitimate occupied government?

    Al & Pam if you ever see this you can probably figure out who I am easy enough. ;) Hope y’all are living well wherever you are.

  13. Breanna Thornton says:

    I just recently had business with AL and Pam. Let’s just say, lesson learned. And if anyone who sees this knows them and has stories of their “drama” please let me know.

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