Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tourist Boat Sinks in Cancun

photo courtesy Por Esto

The sinking of the tourist boat "Sea Star" in the Cancun hotel zone is today's front page news. The 250 person capacity catamaran owned by Club Lagoon was traveling between Cancun and Isla Mujeres with 220 on board when apparently a loud noise was heard. The passengers panicked and ran to one side of the boat as she began to go down. People began to jump overboard when they realized what was happening. There were a few minor injuries, some broken bones and panic attacks. Por Esto states that a tourist suffered a heart attack during the event, the woman remains in hospital today. Quequi alludes to one person dying, but they do say there is no official corroboration of that rumour.

There are some great photos of the boat by Armando de la Fuente here at CaribeInversion. The blogger there suggests that the boat was overloaded and did not meet safety standards with regards to life vests and equipment. He further suggests that this is common practice in Cancun, something that leads me to think about how often we ride boats and whether we would fare well in an emergency. I have been around boats my entire life and my dad drilled boat and water safety into me. I think we might do better than your average landlubber, but the next time we get on a boat like the Sea Star (which we do with some frequency), I will be more actively aware of where the life jackets are stashed. Being a strong swimmer who is aware of water safety and life saving techniques is not a guarantee of survival, but it makes me confident enough to continue to ride the boats and take Max on board with me.

photo courtesy Novedades

It will be interesting to see what developments are made in determining the cause of the accident. Of course, I gave up a long time ago thinking that we would ever get a true and accurate accounting for anything that goes on here. Politics and money distort reality, either pinning everything on a scapegoat or sweeping the whole thing under the carpet to protect the tourism industry. So who knows what really happened. Malfunction on the boat? Hit a reef? Drunk captain? Overloading? All of the above? I guess for me it does not matter much, though a nice side effect of this would be more stringent regulations for boats in the waters around Cancun. Wishful thinking, I know, but it´s a beautiful Sunday and I am feeling generous with the universe. Next week, better boat safety, no drug murders and Max will be the most obedient, quiet little boy ever.

A little positive thinking never hurt anybody, no?

edited to add:
Semarnat (The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources) and Conanp (National Commission on Protected Areas) are investigating possible damage to the reef as a result of this accident.

More posts can be found here...
Monday June 9 update
Tuesday June 10 follow up


Jonna said...

I always look for the safety equipment when I'm on a boat, probably just habit and past training. I'm no longer as strong a swimmer as I was but I think I could float forever in the Caribe. It really looks in the pics like the boat never sank but panic caused most of the injuries. It was interesting that the one who had a possible heart attack was young (23 or 24) and had been diving (though probably what they meant was snorkeling) at the time. I think perhaps she had a panic attack?

Anonymous said...

One of the first things I taught my little ones was how to float and rest in the water. I am a strong swimmer but one can only swim for so long. I feel badly for those folks. I know an awful lot of Mexicans who cannot swim. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Hey, the daughter of a friend of mine was on that boat, a whole group of high school grads from Lafayette and Youngsville, LA were on it. Apparently they are ok.

Anonymous said...

How scary .. you are so right about politics and money rule and the real story will never come out. If the Americans on the boat sue, they will get nothing. Remind me to tell you about my girlfriend that was hit by an AquaWorld boat in Puerto Morelos about 4 years ago. She got nothing from AquaWorld. Spent 4 days in the hospital and 100 stitches on her left side. This is a continuing saga.
KW from Michigan

Islagringo said...

I need to get out of the house more! I had no idea this had happened. For just this reason, I never take the Magana boat. I hate to be inside and just know I would be trapped. If I can, I always sit up top on the Ultra Mar. I figure at least I can get into the water and stand a chance. (of course, the only shark within 23,895 miles will find me!)

Such a tragedy. Today's report says the girl was 18 and was pronounced brain dead on Saturday night. The owners of Sea Star are being charged to pay the hospital costs. Like KW says, the family will get nothing but at least they won't get the hospital bill. So sad, so very sad.

CancunCanuck said...

Jonna- I think I am always peripherally aware of where the life jackets are, but now I will be uber aware for sure. The girl was only 18 and unfortunately today's papers are stating that she has lost all brain function. Poor girl. I don't think they were actually snorkeling, the boat was en route when this happened.

Michele- Floating is your best friend here and luckily the Caribbean is very easy to float in. Sadly, the boat was full of kids who had just graduated high school so not a whole lot of Mexicans on board, but tragic just the same.

Chris- It looks like most of the kids walked away unharmed, though shaken. One student was not quite so lucky though, glad to hear that your friends are ok.

KW- I wish I had a solution to these problems. It's just not in the Mexican culture to sue, so it's not an easy thing to put into practice. Sorry to hear bout your friends experience with Aquaworld.

Wayne- I usually ride inside the ferries, I'm an air conditoning freak. I figure if we're going down, we're going down and you just do your best to get out. I'm glad you have heard that they are paying the medical bills, I hope it becomes a whole lot more than that as it appears this may have been a case of overcrowding, so someone has to be resonsible.

I'll have more on this later hopefully. For those of you who have emailed me, I am investigating in whatever way I can to try to get information for you. I know you are all having a tough time being so far from your loved ones right now, please keep in touch and we will share information together as it comes in. My deepest sympathies go out to the family of Lisa Wong (some papers say "Chang") who it seems has been pronounced brain dead at Galenia. One of the family members who emailed me tells me that the girls parents have made it here to Cancun and are with her at the hospital.

Anonymous said...

It's funny (weird- not haha) how desensitized I've become to safety issues!

I mean I don't even notice when there are 5 people on a scooter and 3 of them are kids with no helmet and other such obvious safety hazards. I've seen these drinking cruise things around everywhere I've traveled- I can't remember ever seeing on that I would rate as safe.

Is safety cultural?

Why in the U.S. do we use baby seats and in Mexico not so much? Why is it illegal in the States to ride in the back of the pick up truck but here it's the normal place to put grandma on her plastic patio chair?

It's an interesting question- I have to ask myself- why do I hop on a drunken boat tour and not even notice if there are life vests on board here, when I probably wouldn't back home?

I guess a lot of us tourist types should ask ourselves this question...?

Anonymous said...

This is something I think about and dread every single time I ride the ferry. *shudder* Like Wayne, I tend to sit on the upper deck when possible.

My heart goes out to that girl's family.

CancunCanuck said...

Lisa- I think there is a certain cultural thing about safety. I still can't believe the lack of road safety here, especially where children are concerned. I also think that being a tourist town, we get "Disney-Eyed" and forget that this is real life, with real life consequences.

Heather- Sorry to hear this affects you every time you ride the ferry, I have to admit that I just don't (didn't) think about it. I guess it was always there in the back of my head, but no more so than driving in a car or walking down the street. I guess knowing how many car accidents happen every day and how many boat accidents happen in comparison makes me feel safer on the water than in the streets.

Anonymous said...

We saw it unfold from the beach (we were staying at the Riu Cancun). The boat may have been swamped but it wasn't sinking in frigid or shark infested water. With so many boats and waveriders in the immediate vicinity, I can only conclude that some type of passenger panic led to the death. I'd be very curious to see what the crew did or didn't do to calm the passengers.

CancunCanuck said...

Ian- Some reports are indicating that the captain and crew abandoned ship, but I cannot verify those rumours. I agree with you, panic most definitely played a part here, they were in shallow, calm waters, it should have been a much smaller event than it turned out to be. Of course, 220 students who may or may not have been drinking would lead to some chaos in any event, but I believe that someone should have stepped up to keep things calm and orderly.

Anonymous said...

My 18 year old sister and her high school grad friends were on the boat at the time of the accident. it was on the 3rd day of their 7 day senior trip with Gradcity. When she called me hysterical after what she experienced. I myself was on the verg of a panic attack. so YES! panic was a factor. Yes! the captain and crew abandoned the boat 1st. and NO! they had not been drinking.(they were not allowed to drink till after the snorkeling tour, I don't think that even matters). Panic and Chaos is completely understandable, for them as well as the family of all those involved. We understand accidents do happen and yes, this was an accident. but it's how we deal with them. and when the papers (media) can't get the number of passangers nor the CORRECT name of the poor victim. it is very sad. family and friends nor the other passangers on the boat have little or no imformation of the cause of the accident. and our sons and daughters or still there dealing and making the best of their senior trip. A trip they will never forget but for the wrong reasons.
EAST JEFFERSON class of 2008 and other High School Grads please make it home safe.
Metairie, La.

Unknown said...

This is from the Dallas News...
Several students from South Grand Prairie High School have just returned to North Texas after a trip to Cancun that left one of their classmates on life support.

Over the weekend, authorities say 18-year-old Lissa Thang Chung fell off a tourist boat as it sank and nearly drowned.

She was declared brain dead and is being kept alive by a respirator.

Mexican officials are investigating whether the boat was overloaded with perhaps as many as 126 people. The boat was only authorized to carry eighty.

Anonymous said...

i was on this boat.. it was the scary thing of my life...

i had a panic attack aand went unconcious.


Anonymous said...

These are the most "detailed" not necessarily accurate articles. There's a link to an Associated Press video also. The correct spelling of her name is Lisa Tam Chung.

CancunCanuck said...

Anon in LA- I totally understand what you are saying. I believe that there would not have been the same level of panic if someone on the crew or the tour guides from Grad City had taken charge and kept everyone calm. Yes, panic is a natural reaction, but it can be kept under control if someone steps up to the plate. I don't think the kids did anything different than anyone else would have done in a scary situation. With regards to the drinking, I honestly have never seen the "not before snorkeling" rule enforced, usually the drinks start flowing right away. That could only lead to further panic if you are under the influence, I was not suggesting in any way that the kids were at fault, with or without alcohol, just that it can be a factor in how crises are dealt with. I wish you family all the best.

Dianne- Thanks for that. The capacity numbers are still in dispute from what I have read. Apparently the boat itself has a capacity of over 200, but the harbour master had only given permission for 80 people to snorkel the reef (to protect the environment they do limit how many people can get in the water), so I think that is where some of the confusion lies. Hopefully the days ahead will give us a clearer picture of why this happened.

OHJessica- I don't blame you for having a panic attack, it must have been a very scary time for you. I am glad to see you posting here, it must mean that you are alright. My thoughts go out to you and your friends and to the young girl who was so grievously injured.

Anon- Thanks. I've read those articles and just like the Mexican news, it's hard to tell how accurate they really are. I will be making a new post later in the day and will include links to the US press, thanks.

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