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|San Pedro Daily||Thursday,
April 5, 2012
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Belize Coast Guard Rescues Tourists Stranded at Sea
The Belize Coastguard was also involved in the rescue of the visitors. The Unit was called out on two incidents at sea today. In the first, four persons were rescued and brought safely to shore. On the second, however, the Italian and US nationals perished from drowning. In the view of the acting Commandant, however, the sea conditions may not have had a bearing on the incident and he told News Five that the guide and the Tsumani Tour operator are being questioned.
Commander Elton Bennett, Acting Commandant, Belize Coastguard
“There are two cases; just off the coast of Caye Caulker we got information that a vessel was capsized just about three miles north of Caye Caulker; we fortunately had a patrol in Caye Caulker so we were able to deploy within reasonable time. Upon reaching that location we found the vessel capsized; there were four persons on board; two Belizeans and two Americans. We were able to rescue those personnel and recover their vessels. We took them into Caye Caulker. Just before mid-day we received information involving seven tourists. We responded to the Hol Chan Marine Area between San Pedro and Caye Caulker, where we were informed that one person was missing and a search commenced right away along with the rangers and other vessels in the area, one body was recovered just after twelve and just after half hour ago, we received information that a second body was recovered. So all were accounted for; five persons were rescued and two unfortunately appeared to have drowned during that incident.”
“What exactly happened? Did their vessels capsize? Were they snorkeling for these two persons to go missing?”
Commander Elton Bennett
“They were snorkeling and outside of the vessel doing snorkeling in the area. The sea state was moderate to rough and the wave height was somewhere between three to five feet so we don’t believe that the rough sea state really had an impact on the incident itself. So we are looking at, I know that the tour-guide is in question along with the tour company. So we are looking at all the possibilities and try to investigate the incident as much as possible.”
“So at this time, is there any additional information that the Coast Guard would like to issue in terms of snorkeling in that area or with respect to the weather and especially with Easter coming up because we know a lot of people will be in the waters?”
Commander Elton Bennett
“Yeah, traditionally at this time of the year it is very popular for maritime and aquatic activities; diving, snorkeling, sailing; just maritime recreational boating and we would like to remind the general public to be cautious when deploying; ensure that you wear your life jacket, ensure that your vessel is able to communicate to mainland, just being cautious in the water alone is very important for each individual.”
The five survivors were transported back to San Pedro and the two bodies were taken to the San Pedro Poly Clinic.
Snorkeling Tragedy Tale Unfolds
Investigations are ongoing into the deaths of one male and one female tourist which occurred in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (HCMR) located between Caye Caulker and San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. The incident occurred shortly before 1PM on Tuesday, April 3rd during a snorkeling trip. The tourists have been identified as American national 54 year old Roger Burger and Italian national Zyihe Florencia. Both were part of a group of seven that were separated from their group by strong currents near the channel at the HCMR. According to police the group left Caye Caulker on board a vessel, namely Cyclone, belonging to Tsunami Tours based in Caye Caulker, for a morning excursion to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley.
Miguel Alamilla, manager at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, who was at Shark Ray Alley at the time spoke with The San Pedro Sun and recapped his experience.
“I received a call from the rangers that an incident had been reported. The report was that four individuals (in fact it was seven) went missing during a snorkeling tour in the Hol Chan area. So we responded to that. Once at the site we discovered that three of the snorkelers had made it back to the boat while the boat captain/tour guide had remained to search for the four that had drifted. We managed to pick up the guide, Marcel Graniel who was close to the reef crest. This was after 12pm. I think this incident happened around 11:45am. He told us that there were four people stranded. We were trying to locate the people. Several hundred meters south of where we picked up the tour guide, we spotted two individuals. By the time we got to them, the waves had pushed the gentleman inside the reef. There was a lady still outside the reef in a very panicked state. I took the man’s snorkel gear and I jumped in, swam out and brought her in. She was in an extreme panicked state. When we pulled them in, the man and the lady, they told us that the others were dead. The gentleman, he had his wife’s wedding ring on his hand. We put them in another patrol boat and we sent them to the PolyClinic. There were two still missing. We decided to send all five to the PolyClinic to receive medical attention.”
Alamilla informed that the HCMR personnel continued their search and around 1PM a Caye Caulker vessel spotted the first body floating along the inside of the reef between Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. Almost an hour later, at about 2PM, HCMR personnel found the second body floating close to the reef in the same vicinity where the first was found.
According to Dr. Noeli Nicholson, around 12:40PM, the five tourists arrived at the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro PolyClinic II accompanied by a Hol Chan Marine Ranger. They appeared to have received multiple abrasions and were very shaken up. It is understood that they mentioned to authorities that their tour guide kept taking them into the channel at Hol Chan and they started to get separated because of the strength of the waves that were pushing them into the reef. The husband recollected that he and his wife became separated from the group around 11:30AM.
The five surviving tourists were later identified as Americans 54-year-old Mrs. Rebecca Burger and 17-year-old son Zach Burger, Canadians 25-year-old Lawrence Tastet and 29-year-old Yanik Doyon and Italian 59-year-old Mr. David Florencia.
The bodies were transported to the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Poly Clinic II where they were officially declared dead on arrival. The bodies were identified by family members who were at the clinic.
The boat captain, Marcel Graniel was detained for questioning at the San Pedro Police Station and the vessel was impounded pending the outcome of an investigation. The bodies of Burger and Florencia were transported to KHMH for a post mortem examination.
It has been confirmed that none of the snorkelers were wearing life vests and it is not clear if the guide was towing a life ring, which is a common practice with many snorkel guides. Although guides can offer life vests to their guests before getting into the water, it is only required by law that the boats have adequate vests on board and snorkelers are not mandated to wear them. It has also been determined that at the time water conditions in the area were quite turbulent.
The tragic incident also raises questions as to what exactly are the rules and regulations regarding boat captains and tour guides operating at sea. To better understand these regulations The San Pedro Sun contacted many reputable tour operators in San Pedro as well as HCMR manager Miguel Alamilla. It was confirmed that regulations stipulate that there is a ratio of one guide per every eight tourists providing that they are doing the same aquatic activity. However at no time is it required that a person remain on board the vessel while it is anchored, such as the case at HCMR.
San Pedro Sun
Mayor Guerrero Addresses
Firings at Town Council
Less than a month after taking office several Town Councils and the City Council have been firing or as they call it “reconstructing” their offices, leaving many without a job. Mayor Daniel Guerrero addressed the situation of firings at the Town Council.
“After elections we sat down and analyzed what was going on in the town council and decided that we needed to do some reconstruction in office,” stated Mayor Guerrero. “After studying the situation, we noticed that in the property tax area we needed to do some changes as it has not been working properly. Therefore we decided to let go the three people which were fired last week.”
Immediate replacements have been hired to fill up these positions since, according to Mayor Guerrero, after elections several persons had submitted applications for work as many are aware that when a new town council is elected there are re-shuffling of jobs and even vacancies.
A total reshuffling of positions and jobs has taken place at the San Pedro Town Council and new personnel have been hired. Following are some of the changes:
Mayor’s Assistance – Yolanda Paraham
Town Administrators Assistant – Lorna Vasquez
Housing and Planning – Candy Bradley
Cashier – Marion Mejia
Trade and Liquor & Property Evaluation– Wilbert Magaña
Property Tax – Daniela Guerrero
There are currently some positions still available and a few more changes are yet to come. The Town Council has just begun its fiscal year and was audited by two government auditors this week. Mayor Guerrero promises that he will provide the public with the official report on the financial status of the Town Council very soon.
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