Thirteen of 32 passengers on a tourist outing near a small Nicaraguan island perished on Saturday when their boat capsized after they were hit by strong winds and waves, authorities said.
The Nicaraguan Navy had prohibited the craft from sailing due to the adverse weather conditions, but the captain believed that he could cope with the gusts and set course for a nearby island. He was later arrested on criminal charges.
The boat sank some 12 kilometers off Little Corn Island, a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkeling.
All of the victims were Costa Ricans.
The Nicaraguan Navy prohibited the boat to sail because of the weather conditions, but the captain believed that he could cope with the gusts
The Reina del Caribe was taking the 32 passengers from Little Corn to Big Corn island after a day at the beach.
Rescue teams were only able to save 19 people, including the captain, Hilario Fermín Blandón, who now faces charges of negligent homicide and endangering people’s lives, said Nicaraguan National Police deputy chief Francisco Díaz.
Extreme weather conditions brought on waves of up to two meters high. The group – 25 Costa Ricans, four US citizens and one Nicaraguan – wanted to return to Little Corn after three hours when the rough waters began slamming into the boat, according to authorities.
“The weather turned very bad and the sea was rough. The wind gusts were incredible and the boat capsized. That’s when the nightmare began,” said Róger Núñez, a lifeguard who was initially part of the group of tourists but refused to go on board.
Núñez told the local press that his sister-in-law was among the victims. He witnessed authorities hauling in bodies at the port of Big Corn Island, while the captain and his assistant were placed under arrest.
Boat captain faces charges of negligent homicide and endangering people’s lives
“This occurs because of negligence and recklessness of boat owners who know that a sail warning has been issued but they still insist on making these trips and putting people at risk,” said Nicaragua navy chief Marvin Corrales.
According to Diego Bosque, who made the trip last July with his girlfriend, the adverse weather conditions are very common in the area.
“You can’t imagine the conditions until you are out in the middle of the water and no one has warned you about the strong waves. It is definitely a risk going by boat,” he said.
The tragedy has moved both the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan governments to set aside for now their differences about a border dispute and the Cuban refugee crisis. Both countries are working together to help the survivors and the victims’ loved ones.
The survivors arrived in Managua on Sunday, where they awaited a plane to take them home.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered that the victims’ bodies also be returned to Costa Rica.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís declared a day national mourning for Monday.
English version by Martin Delfín.