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Jul 16, 2008

Fishermen and Port Authority clash over removal of vessels

Story PictureThere was plenty drama today at the swing bridge area when Belize Port Authority personnel physically moved some of the boats docked in the river behind the Commercial Centre. The fishermen agree that while the river is crowded with vessels, they are not the ones to move, and point to the water taxis. They complained that they didn’t get to sit down with the Port Authority and since the river is not deep enough, moving to the edge of the riverbank will only damage their boats.

Sheek Mohammed, Fisherman
“If di boat dehn deh too much eena di river explain to us or call wah meeting wid di fisherman dehn and explain to us why dehn di move di boat. Why dehn di move fi we boat and we noh know why dehn di fi boat? Nobody noh come explain nothing to us. Nobody explain nothing to us so we want know why dehn di move di boat.”

Marion Ali
“You noh think maybe di boats dehn dock lee bit too much out inna di river? People need fi pass.”

Sheek Mohammed
“Yes, dehn need fi pass but we have enough space but dehn noh explain. Dehn just come and move boat.”

Delbert Staine, Fisherman
“I dah wah fisherman and I cook pan dehn sailing boat yah. Dehn yah dah my hustling yoh understand? Dehn di look fi try stop people daily bread. If dehn move all ah dehn boat yah and jam dehn up how di boat dehn wah come out? How we wah load ice and dehn thing deh? Yoh understand mami? Dehn boat yah deh yah fi years. From I born I si dehn boat deh out yah. From year one, from dis bgi deh yah, dehn boat deh out yah and noh have no problem.”

Marion Ali
“You noh think di boat dehn deh lee bit too much out inna di river?”

Delbert Staine
“No, di boat dehn noh got no problem. I noh know weh dah di problem weh dehn di move di boat dehn fah.”

Hipolito Novelo, Fisherman
“If they need for us to park or to dock more to the edge or to the corner of the water, we cannot do that because the water is very shallow. So we need at least four feet of water so that our boat could be very safe and if they need more water why don’t they just dig more so that we could park more to the side?”

Sylvano Cob, Fisherman
“This morning I spoke to the Minister of Tourism and he told me but being a new government,, I will respect them at this point because the same thing was told in the past government; that they will remove the boats and only one or two boats will moor at that place. In Caye Caulker, that was the first terminal and that’s what was mentioned this morning; that a few boats or only two boats at a time. But that needs to be seen.”

Marion Ali
“There will be shifts according …”

Sylvano Cob
“According to him. But I’m going to rectify it again. I will mention it again.”

Marion Ali
“That’s with the Water Taxi Association but you guys who fish come in … when you get your catch you come in wit that. That could be anytime. That is what might create the problem right?”

Sylvano Cob
“Anytime. I wouldn’t be happy if we have a tropical storm or a small hurricane coming or else you will see the trouble here at this river because this river can’t handle all the boats itself. Sometimes we have to go way by Triple J sometimes because we have over a hundred boats here.”

Marion Ali
“You don’t think it’s over populated now, that something needs to be done anyway?”

Sylvano Cob
“Yes, it’s over populated. Only with the boats and you could imagine more boats if they open up a terminal there? To me that terminal is …”

Marion Ali
“So you think that they should put that somewhere else?’

Sylvano Cob
“Should, should, should. We have the whole front there, we have the whole south park where they could go and lef us in peace here.”

Daniel Dawson, Rep., Nat’l Fishermen Cooperative
“We’re not quarrelling with anyone. What we need is for the two parties to come together, hold a meeting and see what’s best for both parties.”

Marion Ali
“You mean you guys didn’t have a meeting before this multiplication?”

Daniel Dawson
“We had a meeting about a year and a half ago with the Port Authority.”

Marion Ali
“What was the nature of that meeting?”

Daniel Dawson
“The nature of that meeting was that they was going to use that part of the river for Northern Fishermen boats and this part of the river for National Fishermen boats but that didn’t came through because everybody started to use the terminal there and it became a problem from then. So we are trying right now to find an amicable solution to the problem so that we can accommodate everybody.”

The fishermen were issued an advisory letter dated July tenth and according to Ports Commissioner, Major Lloyd Jones, for some time now there has been a need to make space to accommodate the growing number of vessels that traffic that busy section of the river.

Major Lloyd Jones, Ports Commissioner
“The removal of the vessels was done to my satisfaction and that in my view there has been no damage to any of the vessels; certainly we have no received any report of this. In terms of their livelihood, we’re not saying to them that you cannot stay in the area. All we are saying to them is that they must have consideration for the other users of the river as well. The river belongs to all of us and so we certainly respect the right of the sailing vessels to be in this area. They have been an important and colourful part of the Belizean landscape and we want to see them here but they cannot occupy the entire river. We did notify them over a week ago. In fact, we also notified the cooperatives of our intentions to begin to move them today. We thought that that was sufficient time; more than a week for them to move. In fact, some of them stood on the bank watching us move their vessels and would not come to help us move their vessels. Under the law I’m empowered to remove any vessels that are not berthed to my satisfaction. We gave them sufficient notice; an entire week to come and remove the vessel and they have not done so and so in that instance, I ordered my workers to remove them. I believe we only had to move about eight of the vessels because the rest were well within the line that we wanted and so we had to move those eight.”

Marion Ali
“What’s the space that you’re trying to create here and for what reason? Why has it suddenly become congested?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“I think the fact that we were not strict in enforcing the limit for the sailing vessel. We were aiming for three vessels abreast; so three vessels side by side maximum and as you can see, there’s very little order to the way that they berth. We also have water taxis operating in the area. Over the years the sizes of the water taxi have increased. I think they started off with thirty-eight footers and now they have moved on to, I believe, forty-nine footers. We understand that there are orders for vessels as large as fifty-five footers. Like I said, the river belongs to all of us so should I displace one of the parties or should we try and work, find common ground where we can all enjoy the space together.”

Marion Ali
“They also have a concern, and I think it’s a valid one, that when the tide is low it’s really very muddy here. There’s been no dredging, if ever, there hasn’t been any done for quite a while. Have you looked into that as well?”

Major Lloyd Jones
“Yes, and that is precisely why when you take a shot looking out to the sea you will see that the vessels are not placed directly up onto the wharf because we recognize that there are some challenges in terms of the dept of the water. That also serves another purpose because they have complained to us that they don’t want to go close to the wharf because when they’re not around people go onboard their vessels and steal their stuff and create mischief. So we certainly understand that we will not be putting them directly onto the wharf bearing those two factors in mind.”

Jones says the Port Authority needs a space of forty feet across to allow for the bigger boats to traverse the river. He added that a marker and buoys will be placed in the river shortly to separate the fishermen’s domain from the rest of the river.

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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