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June 2002 Vol. 28, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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No Conclusions in Belize About Wave Dancer Deaths

from the June, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After twenty people died when the Wave Dancer capsized during Hurricane Iris last October, concerned Belize officials said they would fully investigate the disaster and issue their report in January 2002. On May 8, Belize Channel Five News aired this report:

* * * * *

Seven months ago, the nation of Belize woke up to the devastation of Hurricane Iris. But even more disturbing than any economic loss, was the sorrow experienced by twenty families who learned that their loved ones had perished in the storm.

Eighteen tourists from the state of Virginia and two Belizean crew members died aboard the MV Wave Dancer when it overturned during the height of the hurricane in the waters of the Big Creek Port. Public outrage following the mass drowning escalated when it was revealed that the Belizeans had been forced to stay on board by way of an ultimatum: Leave the boat and leave your job behind.

Three different investigations were immediately launched, one by the Ports Authority, another by Marine Registry of Belize and a third by the Belize Police Department. But to date, nothing has been forthcoming from any of those agencies. The Ports Commission said that the little information they had gathered had been forwarded to the Marine Registry. While officials there say the report should be completed by September, they are awaiting the statements of the survivors, additional information from the Peter Hughes Company, and technical information on the vessel itself.

The Marine Registry says their investigation is not meant to lay blame on anyone, but instead will recommend how to avoid such occurrences in the future. The police department submitted their file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who in turn determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge the captain of the Wave Dancer, Philip Martin, with any wrongdoing. The DPP also recommended that the Harbour Master conduct an independent review and should he find that any negligence had been committed, the police would reopen the case, but the Ports Authority— which is the harbour master’s employer—has already said that they are relying on the findings of the Marine Registry, which says they are not concerned with who is at fault.

So where does all this leave the families still grieving their loved ones? Apparently, clueless. Family members of the late Brenda Wade say they have been forwarded no information about any of the investigations and have no idea what is happening with the case. While lawyers appearing on behalf of Wa d e and Eloisa Johnson, the other crew member who died that night, have filed a lawsuit against the dive company in the States, that case might take years before landing in front of a judge.

As for the Peter Hughes Company, their website is proudly announcing that as of August seventeenth, they will once again be operating in Belizean waters using the company’s flagship, the MV Star Dancer. The site quotes Hughes as saying, “There was never any doubt we would return to Belize. We are extremely excited to be going back.” As for the MV Wave Dancer , she remains moored along the mangroves of Big Creek, apparently the only memorial to a disaster that authorities seem determined to forget.

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