Honduras probes fishing disaster after 27 die

2019-07-05 11:05
Family members cry over the death of a relative who died on the eve when a boat capsized off the Atlantic coast of Honduras. (Orlando Sierra, Pool, AFP)

Family members cry over the death of a relative who died on the eve when a boat capsized off the Atlantic coast of Honduras. (Orlando Sierra, Pool, AFP)

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Honduran authorities said on Thursday they are investigating the causes of an accident in which at least 27 people died after their fishing boat sank off the Caribbean coast.

The boat sank on Wednesday in the remote Mosquitia coastal region after heading out to sea when a seasonal ban on lobster fishing was lifted.

Families began the grim task of identifying the bodies on Thursday. They were brought by boat to a sandbar off the coast where the bodies were being collected.

The Directorate of Forensic Medicine said a team of nine experts had been sent to the area to help recover and identify the victims.

Ninety-one people were aboard the boat, the 70-ton "Wallie", when it set sail from Cabo Gracias a Dios - on the country's easternmost point bordering Nicaragua.

The "Wallie" sank near Cayo Gorda, a tiny island just northeast of their point of departure. Fifty-five people were rescued. Nine are still missing.

"It is clear that the tragedy happened because the boat was overloaded," said local journalist Jacinto Molina.

The region is one of Honduras' poorest - accessible from the rest of the country only by sea or plane - and lobster fishing is an important source of income.

Merchant Marine director Juan Carlos Rivera said authorities have suspended permits for up to three years for boats whose owners bring on too many fishermen.

"The boats only have a capacity for 30 or 40 people but they overload them by double," said Molina.

Some go out to sea with up to 100 people on board. Boat captains on occasion hire up to 50 divers.

Lobster diving is risky and each diver earns up to $1 250 a trip, while each boatman gets around $600.

"It's good income in a country where there is no money," said Molina.

However, many divers suffer debilitating injuries from diving too deep or staying underwater too long to collect lobsters.

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