One of the four questions in the release is asking whether Guatemalan authorities had informed Belize of their intent to transit our territorial waters and if so, when and to whom, did they advise. The problem with this question is that our officials have told us that the vessel was traveling through international waters but had drifted into our waters after experiencing mechanical difficulties. Retired Major Jones, however, doesn’t find it credible.
“Well that does not hold water from our perspective. If in fact the Guatemalans were in international waters, that would put them 12 nautical miles east of where they went aground and if they had fallen into distress as they claimed they had, then why would they not alert the Belize Coast Guard declaring a mayday seeing that they had lost propulsion or steering depending on whose story you believe. The prudent thing to do would have been to sound a mayday and ask the Belizean authorities for assistance, they did no such thing. Secondly, when the vessel lost power or steering, if we are to believe the official narrative, there was another vessel that was nearby, another Guatemalan Vessel that was nearby, why didn’t that vessel take the distressed vessel under tow to prevent it from one; entering Belize’s territorial waters and in particular prevent it from going aground on the reef? So, something there is not correct and like I said we are not too certain that we can put any great credibility on the official narrative.”
Questions three and four in the PUP release questions the entry of another Guatemalan vessel that came to aid the vessel in distress as well as the repercussions to the Guatemalan military for damages caused.
“Well see this is where we see some holes in the story. It does not make sense because if two vessels are going on a voyage together and one falls into distress that the other would not come to its aid; that is the first thing. We suspect that when the vessel had gone aground it was by itself, they then radioed to their headquarters who then dispatched another vessel to come into our territorial waters in support of the vessel that had gone aground. So, the question we want to know is at what point, if at all, the government gave the authority for that other vessel to enter Belize’s territorial waters and that I think is an extremely serious matter and it ought not to be taken lightly as the officials would have us believe. Well, under the Harbors and Merchant Shipping Act, there is a requirement to report any maritime casualty and that comes with criminal penalties for any failure to do so. Under the Environmental Protection Act there is also a requirement to report any damage done to the environment and it is a strict liability clause where if you damage the environment it does not matter how you damage it or why , if you damage the environment you are required to meet the cost associated with the damage. We want to know how the government intends to treat this matter and in fact, we are demanding that the Government follow the law and that they ought not to give any special favors to the Guatemalans. Already it appears that they are giving special favors because they have allowed another Guatemalan vessel to remain in our territorial waters, they brought in a Guatemalan tug boat to pull the vessel off when in fact we have tugs in Belize that are capable of doing that kind of work as well. So, we are hoping and demanding actually that the government follows the law particularly the Harbors and Merchant Shipping Act and the Environmental Protections Act.”
The Guatemalan vessel was removed at 11am on Saturday by a tug boat from Guatemala and was towed to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. According to authorities, once the damage assessment has been conducted, fines will be levied on the Guatemalan military. It is to be noted that a warship has sovereign immunity and cannot be detained.