The Belize Port Authority has joined the Comptroller of Customs in their call for the Police Commissioner to revise the case of the Big Creek tugboat that set sail for Honduras late last month. The boat, AJ Ellis, departed Belize on July 25 and returned on August 7 with its five crew members infected with Covid-19. Four men who reportedly cleared the vessel to leave were arrested for going against the Covid-19 regulations surrounding the closure of border areas and ports of entry. The latest arrest is that of Vessel Traffic Officer, Keeron Young of the Belize Port Authority. Young is being held responsible for giving the tugboat clearance along with Customs Officer, Deon Castillo; Immigration Officer, Bobby Flowers and the Operations Manager of the Port of Big Creek, Gustavo Carillo. The Belize Port Authority issued a release this morning denouncing the arrest of Keeron Young. In speaking with the Assistant Port Commissioner, Shirlette Martinez, she indicated that her officer was simply following all the procedures and did nothing wrong.
Shirlett Martinez, Assistant Commissioner, Belize Port Authority: “On the departure notice as has been the case with the last fifteen voyages that this vessel has been engaging since March of this year all the information pertaining to cargo leaving the country and in tonnage and what was discharged in Belize and what was not discharged in Belize that section would have there because Belize is the port where this voyage commenced, they would go pick up the cargo as I’ve said and come back in. So that is how they do their operation. There has been nothing really different with the presentation of that document as compared with the other previous documents that we have received. When our officer would get a request for departure from a particular agent we get the document, it’s always completed, we ensure that we check it, we also check it against other documents that the vessel would have submitted before we clear the ship. So we’d look at the cargo manifest for the vessel upon arrival/ departure. This is just a different situation all together because normally with how cargo operates cargo comes into the country and is offloaded some are loaded and taken back out and that’s where the voyage doesn’t start in Belize. This is different the voyage start in Belize they go pick up their cargo and come back into Belize. We the Port Authority didn’t see anything unusual about that presentation, our officer we can vouch for his character he’s a diligent officer, works hard, dedicated and he operates from here in one of the offices here. It just happens that this offer was on the shift when that happened it could have been anybody that processed that document and it’s an administrative process we don’t go on the vessel, we don’t interact with the agent, we don’t interact with the crew you see and that’s the only reason we find that the charges are not justified.”
Assistant Port Commissioner also noted that due to this incident the BPA will be revising their application forms for Belizeans vessels leaving the country.
Shirlett Martinez, Assistant Commissioner, Belize Port Authority: “When they do the notice of departure the notice of departure doesn’t ask you for a purpose. You’re a cargo ship you go. It’s now that you say you know what let me revise our form because of this situation because we have to learn from things and we will put for Belizean vessels that operate from Belize that consider Belize as the home port for those vessels we’ve modified the form to for them to give us the purpose of their visit of their voyage. Normally in a normal operation in terms of shipping the purpose of your voyage to come into the country would be on the notice of arrival not on your departure notice. So we all have to learn from things and this we learned from. We have no control over one’s actions when they leave period we don’t have control over one’s action. If they know the law and they chose to do it differently, and I’m not saying that they went and broke the law they probably I don’t know why they did not declare and maybe if they had declared that you know what we’re going to do dry docking then we could have sought guidance and guided them properly but what they presented to us was clearly under the guise of a normal cargo operation between Belize and Honduras.”
In today’s press conference Prime Minister, Dean Barrow said that he is unable to intervene as the matter is now before the court.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “I don’t see how I can. The Police Commissioner has proffered charges that’s now a matter before the courts. I do know that there is going to be some kind of a meeting on Monday with the various heads of department and the Commissioner of Police, a meeting I think that’s going to be presided over by the Minister of National Security so that that air might be cleared. I can very much sympathize very much with those heads of departments that are looking out the welfare of their officers. On the other hand the Commissioner of Police naturally did what he thought the circumstances and his duty under that law obliged him to do but let’s hope that any bad blood that now exists as a consequence of what has happened can be addressed in this meeting that I’ve disclosed will happen on Monday.”
The release from BPA reads, in part, quote, “These charges seriously undermine the legitimacy of the work of the Belize Port Authority to ensure safety and smooth operations at port facilities throughout Belize. It also undermines the confidence of the dedicated, focused and hardworking young men and women of the Belize Port Authority, like Mr. Young, who conduct their duties with pride and integrity. The question now needs to be asked: who will clear the next vessel scheduled to leave?” End of quote. The five crew members on the tugboat are Elvis Linares, Raymond Dawson Jr., Ryan Godoy, Dane Foreman and Herbert Godoy. Love News is following this story as it develops.