In recent months there have been multiple vessels grounding on the Belize Barrier Reef, threatening the health of the World Heritage Site and lifeblood of the Belizean sea. On December 31, 2014, a French boat captain crashed his steel-hulled vessel into the reef near some coral rubble when he missed the channel near Caye Caulker. Just last week, a 12-foot by 6-foot deep water submersible was spotted lodged on the reef about six miles north of San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye in the Mexico Rocks area, causing significant damage to coral reefs in the area, according to a review undertaken by OCEANA Belize and associated scientists. The Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries through its own Department of the Environment will undertake its own inquiry into the second incident and continues to work on the first. But priority number one, according to CEO Adele Catzim-Sanchez, is removing the precariously lodged vessel from the reef, and that may be easier said than done.
ADELE CATZIM- Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development
“We have done everything that we could have done to try to maintain the integrity of the boat while taking it off the reef system but we’ve not been able to do that. We’ve made several attempts since the first of January to do so and have invested quite a bit of resources in trying tio take the boat off the reef. The next step is for us to invest in breaking the ship into parts. Dismantle it in order to lift it off the reef so that it doesn’t continue to compromise the quality and integrity of the reef system. so , it’s one of those areas that you have to give and take, so their hoping that this experience enables us to strengthen us on how we move forward with our tourism sector.”
This incident and previous run-ins including the Westerhaven cargo ship near Glovers Reef, and Great Escape and Azteca near Ambergris Caye have forced the Ministry to develop its protocol for addressing incidents like these, drawing the line between uninhibited pleasure cruising of Belizean waters and lasting scars on the reef which provides such opportunities. Efforts continue, says Catzim-Sanchez, to bring the captain of the Caye Caulker vessel to justice.
“Our Ministry has been working with the Solicitor General’s Office to get their legal advice on how we can make charges in absentia,= and so even in terms of dismantling the boat and so on. All of that has required us to work with the Solicitor General, they have been very supportive in going through the legal system to get all the requisite legal documents in place to be able to do what is necessary to address the situation and that includes the work of negotiating the company. We have to make the assessment as soon as we get the boat off the reef because we have a preliminary assessment but not until we are able to lift the vessle off the reef that we will see all the extended damage. ”
With regard to the Mexico Rocks incident, Catzim says the Ministry’s information is being developed by a team in the field which has yet to make a report.
“I wouldn’t be able to comment on that as that is something that happened fairly recently and that and I really don’t have all the information to be able to speak fully in that particular situation. We can engage with the media and give an official update on that. I know it has been raised by a couple people- this week actually , to request that we also trigger that emergency response. I know for a fact that I have approved the staff of the Department of the environment going out into the feel to check out the situation. And so I am just awaiting the formal report that comes out of that assessment but we have activated our response. “
press release on Monday indicated that based on markings and serial numbers on the Mexico Rocks vessel, it has been identified as a remote operated vehicle that was “reported as ‘lost’ in Trinidad and Tobago in November, 2014.