Maneuvering La Ceiba Harbor has become a Risky Gable for Roatan Vessels
On November 10 Roatan based cargo boat Monica sank exiting La Ceiba harbor. Much of its cargo of animals and goods bound for Roatan was taken by looters. On November 24 the 75 foot Capt. Bambino got stuck on the sea floor leaving La Ceiba harbor and heavy swell pushed her further aground and onto Monica’s wreck. “Sometimes they [the boats] touch [the bottom] and they push through, this time they stuck. When they have dead swell it’s most dangerous,” said about boats leaving La Ceiba harbor Sharon Carter, owner of Captain Bambino. “They have to take chances when the tide is high. We keep risking our boats and risking lives.”
In order to have the La Ceiba port accessible its entrance needs to continually dredged. “It was shallow before, but the two hurricanes made it worse,” said Carter. The trade winds, and stormy weather, move sand into the port’s entrance to the point where it is now only 7 feet deep. The channel depth that is advertised should be 36 feet.
“They have to take chances when the hide is high. We keep risking our boats and risking lives.”
To make things worse the La Ceiba port has no dredger and no tug boat to pull out vessels that find themselves in distress. This is a recipe for disaster and four boats sank in the last three years: Captain Duggy sunk in 2017; in 2016 Captain Sanchez sunk and in 2020 it was Monica’s and Captain Bambino’s turn.
Carter says that instead the needed channel working depth of 15-18 feet, the dredging is done only to a depth of 8-9 feet. “They never dredge it to depth they supposed to,” said Carter, who’s two boats: Captain Bambino and Captain Bambino II have been carrying cargo between la Ceiba and Bay Islands for 15 years. The two boats pay a hefty fee to the Port of La Ceiba for the service: between Lps. 8,000 and 12,000 per week for each boat. Little of that money goes towards maintaining the entrance at a safe depth.
In the last few years it became less clear who is actually in charge of the La Ceiba port that serves as commercial access hub for Bay Islands and Misquito coast. In 2016 La Ceiba Municipality took over operations of the port from Honduras’ Empresa Nacional Portuaria, but La Ceiba’s mayor Jerry Sabio says that the city’s debt of $50 million doesn’t allow it the expense to dredge the port.
The La Ceiba port has no dredger and no tug boat.
Private companies approached the La Ceiba port management to solve the crisis several times. Both Galaxy and Island Shipping offered to dredge the port in exchange for reduction of their docking fees. “We offered the city of La Ceiba to buy a dredger and dredge the port ourselves (…), but they refused,” said John McNab, owner of Galaxy. “The port of La Ceiba estimated it could be a three-million-dollar dredging operation.”
The situation at the port entrance has gotten so bad that some boat captains are looking at moving operations to the Municipality of El Porvenir, Atlantida, just west of La Ceiba. “We have been pleading and asking for help, but they have been ignoring us,” said Carter. Some boat owners using La Ceiba port are now looking at suing the La Ceiba municipality and the La Ceiba port for negligence and reckless endangerment.
While Hondurans have gotten used to the idea that they can’t count on their government to keep them safe from crime, alert them of imminent flooding, or providing their children a decent education now they are finding out they can’t count on government to keep one of its biggest maritime ports safe for navigations either.