Making headline news all over the internet is Billionaire Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene for leaving unpaid fines of $1.87 million to Belize after his yacht, Summerwind, tore up the coral reef.
Making the news more recently were the Westerhaven, the Great Escape and the Azteca were three notable vessels that ran aground on Belize’s Barrier Beef. Five years ago, Summerwind, also damaged the reef but its owner is now claiming that his vessel never ran aground on Belize’s reef, despite irrefutable evidence.
United States Billionaire Jeff Greene’s three story and 145 foot luxury yacht left a 50 by 200 foot path of destruction in 2005 near San Pedro. Greene is running for a senate seat, and according to his representatives, the grounding on Belize’s Barrier Reef never happened.
The article stated that Summerwind dropped anchor in Belize and plunged into controversy over severe damage to a coral reef system officially recognized by the United Nations as one of the world's most magnificent and irreplaceable treasures.
"The guys from the area told me they were beside the boat before it dropped anchor, and they were yelling and waving their hands, shouting, 'No! No, don't drop here,' '' recounted Melanie McField, a marine scientist with the Smithsonian Institution who surveyed the Central American reef shortly after the incident. "It was bad. There was a lot of damage."
According to reports, Greene was not aboard the boat at the time. And, oddly, Greene today says the incident never happened, despite extensive publicity about it at the time (including statements from his representatives), eyewitness accounts, scientific surveys of the damage and an extensive case file at Belize’s Department of Environment.
"Jeff Greene doesn't take a penny of special interest money, so career politicians are attacking him with ridiculous stories about something that didn't even happen five years ago on a boat he wasn't even on,'' said Greene’s campaign spokesman Luis Vizcaino.
In Belize, the chief environmental officer of the Department of Environment, Martin Alegria, thumbed through a two-volume file on the Summerwind case in response to questions from the St. Petersburg Times. The case remains officially open, Alegria said in a phone interview, and if Greene or the Summerwind's then-captain returns to Belize they face fines of up to $1.87 million, given the amount of reef damage caused.
Belize became much tougher on those who harm or pollute the 175-mile reef after the Summerwind incident occurred in March 2005, Alegria said, but at the time local authorities failed to seize passports or press charges before Summerwind left.
Billy Leslie, president of the San Pedro Tourist Guide Council in Belize, said he saw the damage soon after the incident and closely followed the investigation. Summerwind's anchor caused a 50-by-200-foot swath of destruction on the living reef, he said. "It was a very big deal at the time, but the police made mistakes in that they didn't apprehend anyone soon enough,'' he said. "They (Summerwind representatives) were very clear they were willing to pay to get this resolved, but by the time the order finally came to apprehend someone, they had taken off and never paid a penny." News accounts at the time said the yacht's captain was interrogated but after several days passed without further action, Summerwind took off.
Alegria, Belize's chief environmental enforcement officer, said he may take a closer look at the case now that it has been brought to his attention, but in 2005 the matter effectively ended when Greene's yacht left. "It's still an open case, but it was a lost cause after they left Belize,'' said Alegria.
In the other cases, a multimillion dollar judgment was made against the owners of the Westerhaven in the Supreme Court. Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego, the owner of the Azteca, accepted responsibility and was allowed to leave Belize. However, the owner of the Great Escape, the 85 foot luxury yacht, is yet to be charged with committing any offense. The owner of that vessel faked a heart attack and was allowed to leave the country before settling the matter.