Tragedy at Bridgefoot

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By J.Jimenez

Friday, May 10, 2019

On Wednesday April 17 the Belize City Council had an Emergency Disaster Simulation Exercise. These drill are always done in the hope that it would never be lived in the real. Fate has its own plan. Since the exercises, there has been a vehicle up in flames at a Central American Boulevard gas station and a tragic boat explosion, literally at the foot of the Belize City Swing Bridge.

The latter occurred on Sunday May 5, 2019 in an afternoon Belize will never forget. Similarly, it will be in the sad memories of 32 ferry boat passengers and many onlookers. The Ocean Ferry Water Taxi terminal was the site where two baby girls succumbed to a fateful boat explosion. Such tragedy moves everyone to helpless tears as it is not fair—two beautiful Belizeans, Kimberly Melisa Guy (8) and Jamiri Yasmin Guy (10). Our most heartfelt condolences to all their family especially to their mother, Rosalie Catch (27) and father, Efrain Guy.

This occurrence shocked the nation. We have never heard of an engine on a watercraft exploding. And much less, taking lives. The Caye Caulker bound Ocean Ferry water taxi called Water Jet Express—on charter, was to leave at 3pm that fateful Sunday. The children and family including common-law, Jaime Iteriano, hospitalized, were just near to the engine that was turned on with passengers on board. To be fair, that is probably the practise all the time as confirmed by Charles Young, Ocean Ferry Belize director. Hindsight, no one should have been in the boat until the outboard engines are up and running.

This one was for real and not a simulation. Why, life? The injuries felt by at least fourteen passengers who had to be rushed to the KHMH, who have their own mass casualty protocol, and the Belize Medical Associates was real. The grief will be for a lifetime.

The official reaction, present on the scene in an average of 10 minutes, by police, fire personnel and BERT, has not received a blink of a complaint. They did everything that they could to save the lives. Even they will have to relive the frustration of trying their best to no avail. But it is not within their power; no amount of drills can totally prepare you for the real thing, for all circumstances, but it definitely helps. Now, it is in God’s hands.

Belizeans can do plenty to prepare even more. The Port Authority, in charge of ensuring the sea worthiness of the sea vessels, must step up the enforcement of laws. The Ministry of Transportation should attempt a revision of rules and laws to see what can be done for there to be more actual solutions and less reaction to disasters. The water taxi business can continue doing their optimal best to ensure passenger safety. This hurtful tragedy goes to show that one incident it an incident too much. A full investigation and report is definitely expected with sweeping changes and new protocol. The tourist industry is at stake. The lives of Kimberley and Jamiri should be remembered in honor.

ASP Alejandro Cowo, O.C., C.I.B., Belize City: “… Police called the B.D.F. expert, Coast Guard personnel, Port Authority- they worked throughout last night to determine the cause of the explosion. …the boat was towed this morning(May 6) from the Ocean Ferry to Old Belize where a proper examination is being conducted by Port Authority and the Belize Defence Force along with the Police Department.”

The National Fire Service led the investigation to determine the cause of the boat engine explosion.  Benisford Matura, Assistant Fire Chief: “The boat captain was Ernesto Delgado, twenty-nine-years-old.  He was assisted by two deckhands, Santiago Guzman and Jonathan Teck.  They had just fueled up the boat and when the captain started, they had four engines, four two-hundred horsepower engines when the captain started the engines one by one.  On the fourth engine, that’s when the explosion occurred.  After dealing with the scene and we started to look at the preliminary examination of the stern of the boat, that’s the area of the back of the boat where the explosion occurred, we realized that at some point within the stern of the boat there was a buildup of gasoline.  So that showed us that there was a sign of some sort of leak, from either the fuel tank or the fuel line.  …  But we can ascertain that it was a leak.  …  Once the mixture of gasoline vapors is within the air at that range, any spark can trigger it off… I believe it comes with a joint effort with the port authority and us.  We have to start looking at more regular inspections by the port authority of these boats when fueling; that proper procedure and precaution is taken when fueling these boats.”

            Funeral services were held in Xaibe Village, Corozal District, today Thursday May 9, 2019. May the souls of Kimberly Melisa and Jamiri Yasmin rest in peace.

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