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HONDURANS SAY COAST GUARD ‘KIDNAPPED’ FISHERMEN

HONDURANS SAY COAST GUARD ‘KIDNAPPED’ FISHERMEN
July 27
09:34 2018
Reporter: News Staff, Thursday, July 26, 2018 -

A senior official of the Belize Coast Guard has refuted claims made by Honduran fishermen who released an amateur video which was sent to the Reporter this week. The men, who live in Tres Millas, Honduras, claim that they were fishing in a group in Honduran waters when the Coast Guard detained several other fishermen, also in Honduran waters. They claim that the Coast Guard came across into their territory and took the men with them back into Belizean waters.

Vice-Commandant of the Coast Guard, Captain Elton Bennett confirmed to the Reporter Thursday afternoon that the detention did happen late last week. But he was adamant that it occurred four miles South of Hunting Caye, well within Belizean waters.

In the video, the men claim that all they knew was that they haven’t seen the fishermen since then, until they received word through family members that the men were being held in Belize and each of them needed to pay US$550 before they would be released. The video is actually a request for assistance with the fine which the men maintain is unfair because they say the fishermen were in Honduran waters when the Coast Guard detained them.

The Reporter was able to confirm in Thursday that eight Honduran fishermen were taken to the Belize Central Prison on charges of illegal fishing on Wednesday, and are currently incarcerated. We were unable to get comment from either the Fisheries or the Immigration Department to confirm the amounts which the fishermen must pay to be released.

According to Captain Bennett, the Coast Guard came upon three boats carrying Honduran fishermen in an area known as Corona Reef. The persons in the three boats were detained and handed over to the Fisheries Department as is the procedure in such cases. Also as is procedure, he stated, they recorded the coordinates of the spot they detained the men to verify that they were indeed in Belizean waters. Bennett explained that as far as he is aware, one person pleaded not guilty while the others pleaded guilty to illegal entry. Other than that, he was not aware of the particulars of the Court procedure or fines.

On an aside, Bennett explained that the area known as Corona Reef is considered one of the healthiest reef systems in Belize, and possibly the region. Because of that, it attracts many fishermen from Honduras who have depleted the fish stocks in their waters. The Coast Guard has been conducting an assessment in the area for the past month, explained Bennett, warning fishermen they encountered that they were acting illegally. It was only after a month of cautions that the Coast Guard decided to detain those who did not heed the warning.

Corona Reef, Bennett told us, stretches for nine miles – four miles in Belizean waters and five miles in Guatemalan waters. Because of that, he stated, the challenge will now be to engage in joint discussions to come up with a management plan to monitor and protect the area.

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