Just before midnight last night six Belizeans, five men and a woman, who were stationed at Glover’s Reef were alarmed at the sound of a loud bang in the area. Upon further inspection of the source of the disturbance, it was then that the two Fisheries Officers who approached the area first, found out that a vessel had run aground the reef. It was an alarming incident and one that had warranted that the Belize Coast Guard be contacted. Further inspections led to the information that the vessel was from the Guatemalan military and had aboard several of its personnel. Members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Security began liaising with their counterparts in Guatemala as the process to find out just what the vessel was doing in the area and further investigations began. In an effort to calm the uneasiness and speculations that spread around the country, Ambassador Lawrence Sylvestre, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did a LIVE interview via Love FM at around ten o’clock this morning to update the nation on what had transpired.
“The Ministry was informed just before 6am this morning by the Commandant of the Belize National Coast Guard of the incident in which a Guatemalan Armed Forces Naval vessel with a crew of about 15 people was stranded on the reef at Middle Caye in the Glovers Reef Atoll. This, of course happened at the time when it was reported that the sea state and visibility was poor. Belize Coast Guard personnel in interviewing the crew of the Guatemalan Armed Forces vessel were told that two 65-foot Guatemalan Armed Forces Naval vessels were transiting en route to La Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a port call when one of the vessels experienced mechanical difficulties, became disabled and drifted aground. Our Mexican counterparts have confirmed that the two Guatemalan Armed Forces vessels with trainee cadets on board were expected to make a port call in La Isla Mujeres. We have ascertained that they did have an accident; the defense establishment in Guatemala City, speaking to our people has said that the vessel has found itself there by accident.”
According to Ambassador Sylvestre, the Government of Belize has been in touch with their counterparts in Guatemala and various units have been in constant communication since the reports of this incident surfaced.
“We wish to assure the public that upon receipt of this information that both the diplomatic and the military liaison lines of communication have been very active between Belmopan and Guatemala City. Our Prime Minister has been informed of it; we’ve been speaking to our counterparts at the Guatemalan Embassy in Belize City and Ambassador Rosado, Belize’s Ambassador in Guatemala City has been in touch with his counterparts and our BDF attaché in Guatemala City have been in contact with Guatemalan Armed Forces counterparts on this incident. Further to that the government of Belize is sending a task force which is comprised of the Belize National Coast Guard, officials from the Department of the Environment, the Fisheries Department and the Belize Port Authority, they are going to the area to assess any possible damage to the reef by the grounding of this Guatemalan Vessel.”
Meanwhile on the national security standpoint, Love News spoke with Retired Colonel George Lovell, CEO in the Ministry of National Security, who explained to us how the matter is currently being handled as it pertains to the occupants on the two Guatemalan vessels.
RETIRED GEORGE LOVELL
“One of the vessels was clearly away from the area and may be, and I say may, because in terms of where the international water lies, in the south it’s a little bit different than in the northern part of the country where we have a 12 mile limit; in the south we sort of claim less in certain areas of the south. So I would need for my people to determine where that second vessel was mooring so we can see if that one was in Belize’s territorial waters but it’s not until we can get word back from our people. So, the crew that was on that one remains of that vessel and we haven’t really had any direct communication or contact with them. We had communication and contact with the crew of the vessel that went aground and we have looked at the story that they have given to us and we have checked it out with our Mexican counterparts and it seems to be a legitimate trip that they were making to La Isla Mujeres and because of that, they had asked if the cadets on board could be taken off and placed on a vessel that was sent into the area which we have agreed to. What we have also said to them though, is that for the investigation, at the minimum, we need to have the captain of the vessel, the navigator of the vessel and the engineer of the vessel that must remain until our investigating team concludes the investigation.”
We have heard from Ambassador Leslie that the Guatemalans have indicated that they were traveling through international waters, passing in front of Belize near the Stann Creek District …. But were Belizean officials notified and was it mandatory for them to be notified of the presence of that vessel passing near Belize.
RETIRED COLONEL GEORGE LOVELL
“My understanding according to them is that they were within the international waters; there is a 12-mile limit and they were in the international waters when they experienced difficulties when they drifted into our reefs. Normally when vessels pass through international waters which they claim to have been travelling through; they claim that they were travelling through international water and they drifted into our water and onto our reef. Normally, when they are travelling through international water it is not customary that we will be informed that they are doing so.”
As it pertains to the environment aspect of this incident, we were made to understand that officials from the Department of the Environment have also been dispatched to the location. Interestingly, just 13 days ago, on May 28, there was yet another incident involving Guatemalans on the seas when Guatemalan naval officers had come onto Belizean waters demanding that the Belize Coast Guard personnel depart from Sarstoon Island which is clearly in Belize territory. In that incident, a letter of protest was sent to the officials in Guatemala but Belize is yet to receive a response.