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May 2009    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 35, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Roatán Dive Guide Charged With Attempted Murder

from the May, 2009 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

On January 14, Waihuka Adventure Divers co-owner Maurilio Mirabella was following his routine: bringing a batch of divers to Cordelia Bank, three miles south of downtown Coxen Hole, to swim with sharks while he fed them. But on that day, Willy DeBeer, a dive guide with Sueño Del Mar, followed him there with his own group of divers. When Mirabella saw them after finishing his group’s dive, he was furious. He followed DeBeer’s group down, approached the diver he thought was DeBeer and tried to turn off his air. Turns out the diver was DeBeer’s girlfriend, Dana Cook. DeBeer swam over to rescue her and, as horrified divers from both parties watched, the two dive guides got into an underwater scuffle at 65 feet. Eventually, they stopped and everyone surfaced. DeBeer reported the incident to authorities (Cook says the fight was recorded on video), and the charge of attempted murder was filed against Mirabella.

Mirabella has declined to comment on the charges, but he apparently was angry that DeBeer was trying to profit from “his sharks.” He came to Roatan to build Las Rocas Resort in West Bay but after seeing reef sharks at Cordelia Bank, he started Waihuka and the shark-encounter dives in 2000. After he started chumming the site, he could rely on at least a dozen reef sharks to show up regularly. He has divers kneel on sandy patches at 60 feet to let the sharks swim around them. Waihuka’s Web site refers divers to reserve the $120 one-tank trip through Roatan Shore Tours. Other Roatan dive shops see that dive site as belonging to Mirabella and leave it alone as a common courtesy, says Tom Pauley, a divemaster who led many shark dives for Waihuka. “Because Waihuka Divers developed the site, all the dive operations respect the business they developed and use them to dive the site, getting a commission for sending the divers.”

But DeBeer didn’t see it that way. Multiple people told Undercurrent that bad blood was boiling between him and Mirabella for some time. “Willie is a loose cannon who has been fired from every job he has held while on Roatan,” says Tim Blanton, an underwater photographer and dive master who guides trips for Waihuka. “He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar while working for Waihuka and was fired. proper documents. Maurilio is a hot-headed Italian partner who has managed to alienate almost everyone he deals with. He and Willie were just made for this sort of encounter.”

Sueño Del Mar owner Ray Lopez says after DeBeer joined his operation, he discussed taking customers to the shark dive himself. “I told him to not do that as we had an agreement with Waihuka divers to send them any interested divers and let them do the dives.” The week before the incident, DeBeer took paying customers from various resorts to the dive site, stating he was a freelance shark dive expert. Lopez reprimanded him and said not to do it again. Lopez adds, “The day of the incident, he went to the dive location and was warned by Maurilio not to dive the site. Willy was advised by the deckhand, the instructor on board and the other divemaster to not do the dive, but Willy ignored them and took the divers anyway. Willy has been fired by us for diving the site after I told him not to and putting our guests in danger.”

Blanton and Lopez agree it was a stupid thing for both men to do, especially in front of paying divers. “I in no way condone what Maurilio did and feel he should be prosecuted to the extent of the law,” says Lopez. “Willy may be right that no one owns the ocean but he should have pursued it legally through the courts.”

As in many areas offering shark encounters, Roatan divers’ opinions are split on whether these dives are a good idea. “This is still one of the finest shark-encounter dives in the Caribbean with an outstanding safety record and a high standard of regard for the environment and shark protection,” says Blanton. “Waihuka should not be held responsible for the actions between two ‘childish’ adults.” Pauley says that, safety and ethical issues of shark feeding aside, the dives are being overpraised. “The site is not private property. These sharks are used to people, and they will associate food with any people coming there.” What happens if Waihuka closes shop and other dive shops start going there? “Well, then a real problem can happen,” going beyond a couple of fighting dive guides.

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