The Submersible on Our Reef – Who, What, Where… + Subsiding Sargasso?

Yesterday, after lunch, I took a walk around San Pedro for just about half an hour (on one hot & gorgeous day), got chatting with some folks and learned a few things.  Let’s start with my impromptu visit to the Hol Chan Marine Office on the north end of Back Street, San Pedro.  The local media has been reporting on it…and I thought I’d follow up.

The facts:   An Odd Submersible Was Found March 12, Removed from Reef March 21st and Now In Belize City at the Coast Guard Base

The local media reported just over a week ago about this odd bulk washing up on the reef about 4.5 miles of San Pedro town.  (Photos from the Hol Chan Marine Reserve)


About 12 feet long and 7 feet wide, it was covered in barnacles, wiring and dangling with expensive camera gadgetry and later identified as a Quantum 9 Heavy Work-Class ROV.  A super expensive piece of equipment (worth up to $5 million US when new) used for DEEP water construction and exploration – mainly by oil and gas companies.  This thing is designed to go up to 3,000 meters under the sea.

It is, indeed, submersible.

Where did it come from?  Who was the owner?  How long had it been floating at sea?  And who was going to get it off our coral reef AND pay for damages?  Yesterday, I stopped by Hol Chan Marine Reserve’s office for a quick chat with Miguel Alamilla, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve Manager and all around smart guy, about this submersible and a few other things.

Here’s what I learned.

As soon as the submersible was found, the manufacturer was sent pictures so that the owner could be located.  It didn’t take long.  No more than a handful of these are sold a year and Impresub, an Italian Diving and Marine Contracting company, came forward to claim it

A representative was sent to San Pedro almost immediately and readily agreed to pay for the removal and clean-up.

The ROV (or remotely operated vehicle) had broken loose during bad weather while being used off the coast of Trinidad…just about 1900 miles from Belize.

map trinidad

Wow.  Now it’s time to remove it.  With waves and wind, this thing had done damage to the reef already.  The longer it was out there, the more damage it would do.

Planning took a few days.  While this buoyant cube doesn’t look huge, at over 5 tons, it is HEAVY and no Belize Coast Guard or Hol Chan boats were equipped to do the work.  Island Construction, with their crane and barge were called in to do the…heavy lifting.

They needed to wait for the right weather (photo by Correspondent Kardashian).

fin submersible

And after the removal of a few coral heads and very very careful maneuvering, the ROV was brought on deck.

submersible submersible2 submersible3

This removal cost alone was in excess of $10,000 (which will all be billed to Impresub.)  The ROV was taken to Belize City.

Now how to assess a fine for damage to the reef?

Wouldn’t you know?  There is a system in place.  Just about six years ago, a large Dutch cargo ship, The Westerhaven, left Belize City en route to Guatemala.  On the way, they encountered bad weather and ran aground on the reef near South Water Caye causing a huge area of damage.

You can read more in this Amandala article from 2009.  A system was put in place to basically put a value on the reef for situations like this.  The fine would be assessed per square meter of damage (the Westerhaven’s initial estimate was 10,000 sq meters of destruction and ended up being larger) – at a rate of a minimum of $5,000bzd up to $25,000bzd per square meter depending on a bunch of factors.  Like the quality and density of the reef, was it in a protected area or in a tourist zone.

You can read the final court ruling against the owners of the Westerhaven (it’s actually pretty interesting)- the final charge, if I am reading correctly, seems to be in excess of $11 million USD.

Yesterday, the amount of damage (for this more recent ROV) was assessed by Belize’s Department of the Environment and the fine is still to be announced.

I wonder how this fine money is earmarked…bringing it back to Ambergris Caye and environmental work & studies here, I am sure, would be a huge help.  (But that, I’m also sure, is for a later discussions that I will be no part of.)

Impresub and its representative have been very responsive and, from what I understand, plan to take the ROV with them.

For more on Impresub and the very interesting parts of the world they work in, check out their website.  “In 2007 and 2008 four new subsidiaries were opened; Impresub Venezuela in Caracas, Impresub Libya in Tripoli, Impresub Nigeria,headquartered in Lagos and Impresub Angola in Luanda.”

Now which branch office would you choose?

And since was are talking about the sea, I thought I would mention our little sargasso problem.  Or can we…hopefully…fingers crossed…call it our old sargasso problem?  As in “seaweed?  What seaweed?”

I took this picture yesterday by Central Park.


And then in this spot just a bit farther south…


So I could compare it to this picture taken March 17th, just one week before and sigh a GIANT sigh of relief.


ADIOS SARGASSO!  And as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air said it best:

smell you later

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