On Saturday, March 14, 2020, at around 5:00p.m. Belizean authorities refused the entry of a water taxi traveling to San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize from Chetumal, Mexico. The vessel contained 50 passengers, 16 of them European and 34 of other nationalities, all of which had to return to Chetumal due to the COVID-19 break out in European countries. (Click Here to Read Story). San Pedro Belize Express has since posted a release on their behalf in regards to the situation and has voluntarily ceases its Chetumal run for the next 14 days. Below is their statement on the matter:
Statement by San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi:
On Mar 14-2020 Vessel MV International Star departed the International Pier in San Pedro en route to Chetumal for its regular run. The Vessel was schedule to return from Chetumal to Belize at approximately 2:30pm local time with a total Pax of 50 passengers and 3 crew members. The Chetumal vessel was later ordered to return back to the last port of call, since the passengers on board were from the countries that fall under the category of concern for Covid- 19. Note that they did not show any signs or symptoms of the virus.
Detail of Event:
Mar -14-2020 Port Operation Manager in San Pedro, Mr. Delgado, visited the International Pier in preparation for the regular run to Chetumal. The immigration department informed Mr. Delgado that all Procedures would remain the same; ( for the past two (2) weeks the vessel was able to dock at the international pier and the health department officials would perform checks on each passenger on board the vessel before they can off load and enter Ambergris Caye ). That being said, International Star along with its crew and customers departed on schedule to Chetumal. At 2:50pm local time a manifest with returning customers was sent to the Immigration Department, Customs and the Ministry of Health via email as is always done. The manifest included 16 European passengers with nationals from France, along with other nationals on board. The Vessel departed on schedule at 3:30pm mx time (2:30pm local time) from Chetumal. Our company, the crew nor the border officials at Chetumal was not informed that the 16 passengers were the same individuals that were previously denied access to Belize at the Northern border. When they were checked by the Chetumal health officials, neither passenger showed any signs or symptoms of the virus and were given the all clear to depart from Chetumal and into Belizean waters.
At 3:30pm local time, Mr. Delgado received a call from a personnel of the Ministry of Health, informing him that the vessel will be unable to dock at the International Pier. Mr. Delgado then contacted the Captain and informed him to anchor out at sea until more details of the situation could be brought to light. Mr. Delgado then visited the Pier requesting more information, and this was when he was informed that the 16 individuals in question were indeed persons of concern, due to their nationality. The Personnel from the Ministry of Health that were in communication with Mr Delgado acknowledges that the information should have been communicated much earlier to the port of entry.
At this point the vessel was floating on sea, with news that it had to return to Chetumal; however the port in Chetumal was already closed and would not be available to receive the passengers. Being that it is an international run, there are procedures that need to be followed before entering. Chetumal needs to have available their own personnel in the respective departments of port, health, customs and immigration available on site to receive any international run or it would be considered illegal entry. San Pedro Belize Express in no way refused to return with the passengers. We simply needed to ensure that the proper procedures were in place prior to departing into foreign waters and encountering even more issues. Our Chetumal representative was contacted immediately and he made contact with Mexican officials to get confirmation if the vessel and its passengers could have returned to the Chetumal Port at that time or if they would have to wait until the port reopened in the morning. Luckily they were able to make the necessary arrangements to receive the vessel and its passengers. After receiving this confirmation, Mr. Delgado immediately instructed the captain to return to Chetumal. Vessel International Star was then escorted by the Belize Coast Guard out of Belize. Upon arrival in chetumal, every passenger and crew member were checked and tested, and at that point able to exit the vessel and enter into Chetumal.
On March 15th, SPBE Water Taxi received clearance for re entry for both the vessel and our 3 Belizean crew members, who have since safely reentered Belize. Even though the testing was done in Chetumal, we have been advised by the health department that our crew will need to go on self quarantine for 14 days. We have no issues with this request and will be abiding accordingly for the safety of our crew and for Belize.
SPBE Water Taxi Ltd , wants to notify the public that we acted on approval of our Belizean border officials in the continuance of our international run to Chetumal, since the border was still open. We have been taking all the necessary precautions and we have been working closely with the Health Department. We would like to notify the public that due to the latest press release issued today Mar 15-2020, by the Ministry of Health, “ Minisitry of health advisory no 11 update on covid 19” , and due to this issue that we have faced, the Directors of SPBE Water Taxi have decided to VOLUNTARY cease all operations with respect to the International Chetumal run with immediate effect, for 15 days or until further notice and clearance has been given. Our biggest concern at the moment is for our 3 crew members and their safety, as well as the safety of Belize.