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Shades of the Ocean Hopper?

HeadlineShades of the Ocean Hopper?

The body of one murdered fisherman has surfaced, but the other four fishermen, and boat have vanished

Four of five Belizean men who went to fish in the Colson Caye area in the Stann Creek District are missing. The fear is that they have been brutally killed and disposed of, after the body of the fifth man was found on Monday evening, chopped up and shot in the chest and back, with the indications being that he may have been tortured before he was killed.

As of press time tonight, Thursday, neither the four men or their boat have been found.

The family of the fifth man, Thomas Levi Young, 49, of Lucky Strike, is devastated, trying to deal with the reality that he has been violently taken away. Young was found floating in the sea about a mile off the shores of Colson Caye at about 2:00 Monday afternoon. His corpse was in an advanced state of decomposition. Doctor Mario Estradabran, who conducted the autopsy, declared that his death was caused by exsanguinations – internal and external bleeding – due to gunshot wounds to the chest.
Police, who took Young’s body to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital after taking it over from the Coast Guard who had retrieved him from the sea, reported that there were two large chop wounds in the center of his head; as well as a large chop wound on his left hand, on which there was a shark tattoo with the name “JAWS;” a cut wound under his chin; a chop wound on his left small finger; and two gunshot wounds, one in his upper left chest and one in his upper right back.

The body was buried immediately after the autopsy due to its advanced state of decomposition. Police have declared the matter a murder, and a murder investigation has begun.

Police said that about 10:00 Thursday morning, December 5, Thomas Levi Young, along with Derwind Gentle, 26, a Belizean fisherman of Crown Cone Street, Coral Grove area; Elgin Graham, 24; Sergio Flores, 34, of Sarteneja Village; and Kenrick Devin Chi, 26, left Belize City on board the Natasha, a 28-foot skiff, to go fishing on Southern Long Caye in the Stann Creek District.

At about 1:35 Monday afternoon, while Belize Port Authority officers were patrolling between Southern Long Caye and Long Caye, they found a body floating in the sea. They informed the Belize Coast Guard, who transported the body to Belize City. The body was later identified as that of Thomas Levi Young.

Police and Coast Guard officers are presently conducting search operations to find the other four men and the Natasha.

Stephanie Garnett, a cosmetologist of Freetown Road, Belize City, the common-law wife of Elgin Brian Graham, one of the missing men, said that he told her that he was going on an overnight fishing trip at Tobacco Caye, Stann Creek District, along with some friends, namely Derwind Gentle, Thomas Young, Kenrick Devin Chi, and Sergio Flores. She further reported that they went in a white boat, Natasha, which had a 75-horsepower engine.

Garnett told Amandala that Elgin was the diver, who dived to catch lobster. They usually came back the next day, or at most, two days later, she said.

According to Celina Gentle, her son Derwind Gentle called his common-law wife on Saturday to say that they were coming in, she said, and she and others waited on Saturday, but he did not come, nor did he come on Sunday.

Garnett got worried, and began to call him, but there was no answer, and she went to report him missing on Monday, December 9. She said that shortly after reporting him missing that Monday, she was called and informed that a body had been found, and it had been identified as Thomas Young –one of the men who had accompanied Elgin on the fishing trip – because of a split on his toe and the clothes he was wearing.

She then began to fear the worst, and adding to her misery were the false alarms she has had to contend with. While Garnett was speaking with Amandala, she was informed that her boyfriend’s body had been found and that he was in a boat at the Northern Fishermen Cooperative docks. He was well known as “Shata,” and those at the cooperative knew him well. She was told that he had been taken to the morgue.

Also, Garnett was informed that another body, known as “Canoe,” had been found. Calls for verification were made to the Coast Guard, and to the police, who confirmed that no other bodies had been found beside Young’s, and that their search continued.

This was devastating to Garnett, who badly wants her boyfriend to be found.

Lt. Gregory Soberanis, Operations Officer, Belize Coast Guard, said that they have received reports that robbers and pirates operate from in the Alligator Caye area all the way down south to the cayes in front of Dangriga. The Coast Guard must now conduct frequent patrols in the areas due to piracy, said Soberanis, who added that the Coast Guard is presently conducting a joint investigation with the police, and they are jointly conducting search and recovery operations to locate the four missing men.

Soberanis said that they have searched close to the Belize District, but they’ve not been able to find even the boat, Natasha. The weather was particularly bad, and it made the search difficult for the team, but Soberanis said that they would not give up.

In an interview with 7News, Celina Gentle said that her son, Derwind, goes to work every day and he doesn’t trouble anyone. She said that she knows of no reason why anyone would want to rob or harm him, because when he goes to sea, he doesn’t take anything of which he could be robbed, except the lobster that bandits would want to steal. The devastated mother said that she desperately wants his body to give him a decent and proper burial, and her sentiments are shared by the families of the other men.

This latest disappearance of a boat containing fishermen, including the obvious murder of one of them as evidenced by the body that has been found, highlights the danger facing fishermen and others who travel the waters in front of Belize City and the southern seas for pleasure and work.

In an incident with eerie similarities to this most recent disappearance of Belizeans in a boat, in 2007 Magistrate Richard Swift and six men went fishing in the area between Long Caye and English Caye on Sunday, November 4, 2007. At about 9:00 that morning, the seven friends left from Belama Phase I in a 25-foot skiff, the Ocean Hopper. They were Derrington Escobar, 48, a businessman of Poinsettia Street, Ladyville; Mauro Ismael Quiroz, 50, a businessman of Guzman Crescent, Phase I, Belama; Magistrate Richard Swift, 50, of Waha Street in the Belama Phase I area; Abner Quiroz (Mauro Ismael Quiroz’s son), 31, a rental agent of Avis who lived on Sarstoon Street, Belize City; Nick Egbert Nicholson, 53, an accountant at the Radisson Fort George Hotel and resident of Park Avenue, Buttonwood Bay; Gustavo Briceño, a computer technician of Lizarraga Avenue, Kings Park; and Eldon Reyes, 25, a construction worker of Pike Crescent in Buttonwood Bay.

When the men failed to return, a search team comprised of soldiers from the BDF, the police, Belize Coast Guard personnel and relatives of the men, including many experienced seamen such as Alfonso Aldana, Captain Johnny Borland (now Rear Admiral and Commandant of the Coast Guard), and certified dive masters and captains, worked day and night to find the men.

The search team began that Monday morning and they combed the general vicinity of St. George’s Caye, and the entire Belize Barrier Reef. They also searched areas such as Big Cay Bake, Grand Point, Southern Long Cay, Rendezvous Cay, Stake Bank Cay, Drowned Cay, Snake Point, Grand Bogue Creek and Little Joe’s Hole.

After a week of searching, on the afternoon of Saturday, November 10, Magistrate Richard Swift’s body was found floating, snagged on a shallow reef on Glover’s Reef, about 60 miles southeast of Belize City. Swift’s body initially could not be identified, because it was partly decomposed. The corpse was first thought to be that of Gustavo Briceño, but Swift’s wife, a Belize City Magistrate’s Court prosecutor, identified it as her husband’s body. Swift was positively identified by the clothes he was wearing, a pair of sandals and the wedding ring he wore on his left hand.

To date, 6 years later, there has been absolutely no trace of the other six men.

In a previous incident in December of 1998, a family of five disappeared while on their way to English Caye, just to the south of Brown’s Caye. Charles Garbutt, a Port Authority employee, his wife and their three children left Belize City on December 16 and vanished somewhere between Belize City and English Caye, which is about 12 miles southeast of the old capital.

None of the Garbutt party was ever found, despite a massive search for the family. Police believe the disappearance of the Garbutt family may have been related to a series of cocaine “wet drops” reportedly made in a lagoon at Gales Point Manatee and at sea sometime between November and December of 1998.

Several days later, three divers recovered Garbutt’s boat and took possession of it, instead of reporting the discovery to police. They were subsequently arrested and charged with theft.

The men admitted to local media at the time that they found and took the boat, but denied knowing anything about the Garbutt family’s disappearance. No bodies were found in the abandoned boat, they claimed. The three men were murdered a month later in the same area while diving. Their bodies were discovered in January of 1999 floating under a boat known as the S. Kelly, tied to the skiff and displaying multiple gunshot wounds.

Five men were detained on suspicion of being involved in the deaths of the three men, but they were never charged for either the disappearance of the Garbutt family or the murders of the three men who had found and kept the boat. Speculation was that cocaine was the catalyst behind both incidents. To date, however, no one has been charged for either the Garbutt family’s disappearance or the murders of the three men.

The dangers now faced by sea workers and fishermen cannot be overstated. Besides the threat posed by drug traffickers moving narcotics and looking for narcotics on the seas, there also are pirates to contend with. Police reports are that at about 10:30 on the night of July 4, 2012, Cornelio Verde, 64, a fisherman of Sarteneja, was seriously injured after a group of pirates boarded his boat, shot him with an assault rifle, robbed his four workers of their belongings and the crew’s catch, and got away. Verde was left to die on Colson Caye. Among the stolen items were groceries, fuel and money, as well as a pair of outboard engines.

Verde reported to police and the Coast Guard that he and his four workers were on their boat on Colson Cay when another boat with four men onboard drew close to their boat. The men asked for assistance with fuel for their engine, and as he (Verde) and his workers were assisting the men, one of them took out an AK-47 assault rifle, pointed it at Verde and his group, and ordered them to jump overboard into the water.

Verde and his men complied and jumped into the water, the gunman nevertheless began firing at them, hitting Verde. The robbers then ordered them to get out of the water and back onto their boat, and proceeded to rob them of their belongings at gunpoint. Afterwards, the pirates left the area, leaving Verde to die on Colson Caye. The fishermen were stranded, with no food and no engine.

Two of Verde’s sons who were with him swam out to the open sea to a ship that was passing in the area, which took them onboard, from where they were able to alert the Coast Guard by radio. The Coast Guard rescued Verde and took him to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital for treatment.

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