by Charles Gladden
BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 27, 2023
The Belize Port Authority issued a press release this evening regarding a marine incident involving a 98 meters long Panamanian-registered general cargo vessel “HERCA-1” which was carrying containers and break-bulk cargo, and journeying through Belizean waters en route to Port Everglades, Florida, USA from their last port call in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.
Reports suggest that around 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, March 26, the vessel began experiencing mechanical failure and ran aground on the Barrier Reef east of the Drowned Cayes. According to the Port Authority release, “The vessel remains grounded, and the salvage operation will commence shortly under the supervision of the Department of the Environment, Belize Port Authority and the Belize Coast Guard.”
Apparently, the vessel is not considered to pose a major threat of pollution at this time. The release continued:
“The vessel has been detained pending an investigation into the grounding incident, environmental impacts, and damage assessment. A joint team comprising the Belize Port Authority, Department of the Environment, Belize Coast Guard, and Fisheries Department are attending to the incident. Upon inspection, the vessel does not pose a threat of pollution at this time, as its hull remains intact. However, damage assessment to the marine environment is still ongoing.”
According to data from the Department of Environment, from between the years 1999 – 2019 there have been a recorded 62 groundings that occurred within Belize’s waters. Of those numbers, 49 or 79% resulted in damage to live coral formation, while 13 or 21% of the incidents didn’t result in any damage to live corals on our reef system.
Dislodging the cargo vessel, a relatively small craft compared to the huge mega-cruise ships that are being lobbied for by cruise port developers to come into our coastal waters, will not be made any easier by the powerful northeaster that currently prevails.
Nevertheless, the release advises that, “Once dislodged from its grounded position, the vessel will remain detained until the investigation and damage assessment concludes. The 13 crew members onboard are safe and cooperating with Belizean Authorities in the conduct of the investigation …”
In the meantime, we are not certain, but it may well be that Belizeans can catch a glimpse of the grounded vessel on the eastern skyline from a perch on the seawall near the Baron Bliss lighthouse.