Tourist boat captain to be investigated for tragedy off Nicaragua

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua’s police, army and navy will investigate the captain of a tourist boat and his assistant for the deaths of 13 Costa Rican passengers killed when the vessel capsized in bad weather, a top government official said Sunday.

The “Reina del Caribe,” Spanish for “Caribbean Queen,” was carrying 33 people when it went down Saturday amid rain and strong winds as it ferried between the Corn Islands, a popular tourist destination, off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo clarified on Sunday that the boat was carrying 25 Costa Ricans, two Americans, two British citizens, a Brazilian and three Nicaraguans. Previous reports had said there were 32 people on board including four Americans. All the dead were Costa Ricans, mainly women, Murillo said.

“This is a great tragedy, truly painful, because they were our Costa Rican, Central American brothers and sisters who were vacationing in the waters of the Nicaraguan Caribbean,” Murillo said on Saturday.

Mario Berrios, the Nicaraguan navy’s commander for the southern Caribbean region, said the boat’s captain was detained because the vessel was not supposed to be sailing during the inclement weather that had been lashing the region for several days.

“There was a warning that the weather conditions would be bad, but it appears that was ignored and this tragedy happened,” Berrios said. Authorities had suspended boat launches in the area due to winds reaching 25 to 30 knots (29 to 35 mph).

On Sunday, Murillo said that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega had ordered police, along with the army and navy, to determine who was to blame for the tragedy. She said the captain and his assistant would be legally processed for the 13 deaths.

“Everyone is honestly moved and consternated by what has happened, but we also must make sure this doesn’t happen again. Those to blame for this tragedy must be processed … all the established penalties must be applied to those responsible,” she said.

Rescue workers on Sunday were still trying to retrieve the bodies of four of the dead Costa Ricans after the ropes on a boat carrying them to land snapped in bad weather.

Nicaraguan authorities were working with their Costa Rican counterparts to repatriate bodies late Sunday.