Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fiesta Cruiser Wreck Finally Removed From Playa Hermosa


The Fiesta Cruiser, a triple-decked "party" boat which was wrecked on the night of Oct. 25, 2011 and subsequently washed ashore on Playa Hermosa, was finally refloated on February 6 and towed to the shipyard. It is now moored at the old pier, waiting to be repaired.

Two previous attempts to remove it to the shipyard last November failed. It became an urgent matter when political forces intervened to get it off the beach before the arrival of the governors of Sonora and Arizona arrived in Puerto Penasco for the Arizona-Mexico Commission's conference on February 10.

The boat, owned by American Sherman Smith, is a converted shrimp boat which was used for sunset cruises, sightseeing cruises, etc. On Oct. 25, in spite of the harbor being closed and the issuance of red flag warnings, the boat was taken out for an evening tour during a very low tide with 44 passengers aboard, mostly comprised of members of Puerto Penasco's singles club, and many in their 70s and 80s. Because the regular captain had not showed up, Mr. Smith captained the boat himself.

According to first hand reports, the boat became stuck on a sandbar in the exit channel as it tried to leave the harbor and it took nearly an hour to free it. Once in open water it became apparent that the Captain could not steer the boat, causing it to drift around until it turned broadside to the waves.

A call for help was sent out and the Navy came to the rescue, unloading about half the passengers and taking them to safety; it then became impossible to unload the rest due to high wind and waves. The boat was pushed sideways toward the beach by the wind and waves, finally grounding on the beach about 100 yards from the water line.

Remaining passengers jumped from the stern into the water, which was only about three feet deep at that point, and waded to shore, assisted by crew members and the Navy. They were met by police cars, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles. Unfortunately one person died as a result of this shipwreck. Evelyn Ann Fought, an 80-year-old woman who had been visiting Puerto Penasco for more than 40 years, drowned.

Early reports of the incident indicated that the boat's rudder had been damaged on the sandbar, but later investigations showed the rudder to be in good shape whereas the propellers were pretty much destroyed. Without the propellers, and running on only one engine, it was impossible to steer the boat.

The Federal Environmental Protection (Profepa) brought proceedings against Smith for environmental damage caused by spilling about 200 liters of diesel and oil into the sea. Profepa inspectors inspected the site to assess the ecological damage and ordered Smith to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation. Corrective measures were taken by Profepa, the Navy Department and Municipal Civil Protection and Fire, including the placement of a containment boom around the boat.

The cleaning was done by suction, and the damaged parts of the boat were sealed to prevent further spills into the sea.

Sherman Smith was subsequently fined $25,000 USD for the cleanup and for recklessly taking the boat out in spite of the warnings.

Word is that Smith intends to repair the rusty old vessel and put her back in business at some point in the future.

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