On November 16, 2005, my wife Winifred, brother John and I, along with 47 other passengers, left the Norwegian Dream by a catamaran operated by Discovery Divers for snorkeling at the Belize barrier reef.
It is hard to imagine that was the last time we saw my brother John alive.
On November 16, 2005, my wife Winifred, brother John and I, along with 47 other passengers, left the Norwegian Dream by a catamaran operated by Discovery Divers for snorkeling at the Belize barrier reef. It is hard to imagine that was the last time we saw my brother John alive.
Prior to entering the water, we were briefed on the area and use of snorkeling equipment by a Norwegian Dream staff member who said she would meet us in the water. She did not ask who was a beginner, our gear was not checked, no one met us in the water and we were not warned of a moderate to strong current moving away from the boat and the snorkeling area.
I didn’t wear flippers and was quickly carried out by the current. My brother John was a first time snorkeler but a good swimmer. John worked out daily and was in good physical health. My wife Winifred was last in the water. She and my brother were within twenty feet of the catamaran when she asked John where I was and he told her “way out there.” She said “if you’re all right, I’ll go get help for Don and be right back.” Winifred called up to the boat for help and I was promptly rescued. When she went back to John she could not find him.
She got back on the boat to see better and get help finding John. He could not be found. The Discovery Divers’ crew looked over the water and said that he was “probably with the other guests at the reef.” Eventually they made a more complete search, then got other boats and an aircraft involved. After a week of searching, John’s body was never found. (Apparently his vest was not inflated.)
We later learned that a catamaran from another vendor had picked up 100 guests from the Norwegian Dream the same day just before we left the ship. This operator was aware of “small craft warnings” and pulled its guests from the water after about 10 minutes and returned them to the cruise ship. We also learned that when the Norwegian Dream was back in port the next week, November 23rd, they again used the same vendor that had lost my brother!
Winifred and I spent twelve days at the Radisson Fort George in Belize City while the search continued. Although the local media was interested, we had frustratingly little communication with the police and searchers. We asked to meet with the Belize Tourism Board officials and found them to be defensive. They assured us that one of their Tourism Police Officers would be in daily contact with us. He only called the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 25th, to tell us that the search had been called off— which fact we had learned from TV Thanksgiving night!
After many requests, four months later we received a two page preliminary police report in which we found errors in nine out of the eleven paragraphs. Now, nine months later, we have no final police report, no inquest result, no death certificate and no acknowledgement of our safety recommendations. (The inquest was requested by our lawyer in January and again in April. The request was acknowledged by the Chief Magistrate in May, but still no date has been set.)
We have a large amount of documentation: media reports, more than 75-80 pages of my daily journal, correspondence, etc. We are sending a letter and our safety concerns to agencies in Belize, international dive associations, and US legislators from Nebraska and New Mexico. Our hope is that cruise lines and their vendors will be held responsible for the safety of traveling Americans. We are urging US legislators to support the Cruise Line Accurate Safety Statistics Act.
This November 14-17, I intend to return to Belize to meet with the Police Department, Belize Tourism Board, Belize Tourism Industry Association, the local media, and others. Both Norwegian Cruise Line and Belize’s protectionist attitudes and lack of attention to our situation are frustrating.
John, age 68, was my only sibling and we were very close. He had lost his wife to cancer the year before and leaves behind two married daughters in our hometown of Omaha. We are still devastated both from his loss and from the knowledge that better safety on the catamaran could have prevented our tragedy.
UPDATE (February 2007)
Donald and Winifred Dresp were notified by the U.S. Consul in Belize that a Coroner’s Inquiry would be held on December 12, 2006, thirteen months following John’s (“Bud’s”) disappearance. They returned to Belize and spent a tearful hour in the Belize City Magistrate Court, reaffirming their previous testimony and answering questions. No other witnesses from the catamaran company (vendor) or NCL appeared, as they had failed to receive a summons! The catamaran witnesses were rescheduled to be summoned on January 9, 2007, but that date was canceled and rescheduled for February 19th. No conclusion was made after that meeting. The judge is currently trying to find the author of the ship’s manifest since “only the family has reported him missing!”
The purpose of the inquiry was simply to determine the likelihood of death. After that, there may be a ‘fault-finding’ inquiry. While in Belize in December, the Dresp’s learned that the sloppy 11-paragraph report that they had received in February 2006 was the FINAL Police Report in which nine (9) of the 11 paragraphs were incorrect, thus forcing the Dresp’s to prepare a list of rebuttals. They were allowed an opportunity to speak with the judge and provide him with the corrections to the report, as well as the ICV story and various other documents, which had not previously been made available to him.
The Dresp’s dismissed their attorney, Lois Young, who would not meet with them before the inquiry and wanted $600 US cash in advance! They interviewed with the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Tourism Industry Association, and several members of the local media. To each member, they issued their story from www.internationalcruisevictims.org, their list of the Safety Concerns, and the Police Report with their corrections. They also presented letters from US Representatives Terry, NB, Pearce, NM, and Senators Nelson, NB, Domenici, NM, Bingaman, NM. Just prior to leaving Belize, Don Dresp also spoke briefly to the local Rotary at their luncheon.
The most hurtful and disturbing item was learning of the ‘word on the street’…that John is alive and well, and living in Europe off of insurance money they are sending!!! (Five fishermen were also lost at sea, just two days after Bud, but only the Americans are suspect!) Due to the fact that no one has been found, along with the protectionist attitudes and probable corruption in Belize, the Dresp’s do not expect to ever find the truth or obtain justice from the Belize government, although they have not given up.
The December 12th story on the Belize City TV stations may be seen in the archives for that date http://www.7newsbelize.com/ and http://www.channel5belize.com/. The Dresp’s will continue to work with International Cruise Victims towards legislation for improving the reporting and safety on cruise ships, as well as of the vendors that are promoted by respective cruise ships.