Our policy is intended to be fair to our guests, and yet prevent the loss of income to our business.
Peter Hughes

From: RDC Board Of Directors
URGENT Re: Peter Hughes Wave Dancer & Aggressor ANNOUNCEMENT
Posted: Tuesday, October 9th, 2001, 04:00pm

Thirty members of the Richmond Dive Club were involved in an accident in Belize last night about 11:00 p.m. Two live aboard dive boats were carrying members of the Club, the MV Wave Dancer, owned and operated by Peter Hughes Diving, and the Belize Aggressor, owned and operated by The Aggressor Fleet. Seeking refuge from Hurricane Iris, both boats went two miles up the Monkey River outside Belize City and moored. A storm surge came up the river and lifted the MV Wave Dancer onto the dock breaking it apart. It then fell off the dock upside down in 12 feet of water. As of 2:30 p.m., Peter Hughes Diving has confirmed to us that of the 30 dive club members, 13 are alive, 10 are missing and 7 are dead. Search and rescue efforts are being conducted by the British Royal Navy, and representatives from the American Consulate are on site. The phone number for the American Consulate is (202) 647-5226. Further updates are available on the Richmond Dive Club website at http://www.richmonddiveclub.com.

After the capsizing of the Wave Dancer, Tom Conlin, Executive Vice President of Peter Hughes Diving and Patricia Rose, a PHD spokesperson begin issuing press resleases:

Tuesday, October 9

Peter Hughes Diving Inc issues statement that guests were forced to remain onboard because no hotels were available. The company says they did not know where hotel guests were sheltered and had no emergency contingency plans to evacuate passengers. Peter Hughes Diving Inc. issues statement about hurricane movement that contradicts warnings issued by the National Hurricane Center.

Wednesday, October 10

Peter Hughes Diving Inc issues statement that the hurricane was expected to hit the northern part of Belize and suddenly veered south, but National Hurricane Center warnings predicted movement to the south, southwest as early as Sunday.

Peter Hughes Diving Inc and its attorneys issue gag order forbidding staff from answering questions about what actually happened at Big Creek. Bart Stanley, dive master aboard the Wave Dancer, confirms that the boat's owners and lawyers asked him not to discuss the incident.

The Wave Dancer's captain, Philip Martin originally jailed after the accident, declines to discuss what happened. After Peter Hughes' arrival in Belize, he is freed and flees to his native New Zealand.

Saturday, October 13

Belizeans and the diving public express shock and anger after learning that Peter Hughes Diving threatened to fire Belizean crew if they went ashore to emergency evacuation shelters.

Monday, October 15

Amid increasing allegations of negligence, Peter Hughes Diving angers its own customers by refusing to make full cash refunds to those who booked trips aboard Wave Dancer.  The company refuses to comment on the 'NO REFUNDS' policy.

Tuesday, October 16

Maritime Safety officials state that live-aboard dive boats should never depart port when hurricanes are in the region and moving in the general direction of offshore dive sites.

Wednesday, October 17

A leading naval architect raises concerns about inadequate passenger vessel certification procedures around the world, specifically VCG (Vertical Center of Gravity) calculations that allow for top-heavy, converted crew boats of the type common to the Peter Hughes Diving fleet.

Thursday, October 18

Investigators from Lloyd's of London, the Wave Dancer's insurance carrier, claim a tornado may have spun off Hurricane Iris and ripped the dive boat from its pier and rolled it underwater. Attorneys for Peter Hughes claim that eyewitness accounts, physical evidence and twisting damage in nearby wreckage led to the tornado conclusion.

January 9, 2002

"...Peter Hughes is pleased to announce that Sun Dancer II, presently located in Palau, will leave for Belize at the end of Palau's high season in May, 2002. Charters in Belize will begin August 17. Sun Dancer II, the largest, most luxurious vessel and the  flagship of the Dancer Fleet, will bring a whole new dimension to live-aboard diving in Belize. When asked why this particular boat was being moved, Peter Hughes said "For a couple of reasons...one, we knew that we had to put our 'biggest and best' in Belize to fill the shoes vacated by M/V Wave Dancer; and two, we've been considering operating solely during high season in Palau for a while now and this gives us that opportunity. Fortunately, Palau's high season which is January through April is Papua New Guinea's low season. Beginning in 2003, we will relocate Star Dancer to Palau during this time period and so offer our guests the ultimate dive experience, the best of both worlds in these two world class dive destinations." Hughes added, "There was never any doubt we would return to Belize, we are extremely excited to be going back... we love the destination and it has always been one of our most popular."

June 2002
Channel 5 News Belize Interview with Peter Hughes

Wave Dancer Owner Answers Critics

Twenty lives were lost when the diveboat Wave Dancer capsized in the middle of Hurricane Iris in the waters of the Big Creek Port. Tonight, the owner of the Wave Dancer is back in Belize and in his first television interview since the accident, Peter Hughes offers his company's version of the events that ended in Belize's biggest maritime disaster.

Janelle Chanona
"Tell me about being back in Belize coming off the incident last year with the Wavedancer in the Big Creek Port."

Peter Hughes, Diveboat Operator
"The Wave Dancer incident was obviously a tragic, tragic incident. And I have been accused perhaps of being rather callous because of my desire to come back to Belize and because of some of the statements I made about looking forward to coming back to Belize. But what people must realise, is the fact that while this may sound callous coming from me, it's not. I have a lot of responsibilities that go far beyond myself. There are seventy or eighty families around the world that make their living from our companies and our related companies.

"Here in Belize we have the distinct pleasure and privilege of doing business in your country for ten years. It was an incident-free ten years, it was a very good ten years. Belize was good to me, I think I was good to Belize. I think I gave back in kind what I received.

"After the tragic incident, there were a lot of heated emotions, which one can expect, there was a tremendous amount of   grief. Over time grief turns to anger, anger turns to the need for revenge etcetera, so I sympathise, I feel for those people. Everyday of my life when I wake up I think of those people and I think of the people that were left behind.

"So I feel remorseful, I feel tremendous sorrow and regret for what happened, but I also feel a certain sense of optimism in the future. I can't change what happened, but I can ensure it will never happen again, and that I intend to do."

Janelle Chanona
"How do you intend to do so, make sure that never happens again?"

Peter Hughes
"Based on all of this, we have obviously adapted our hurricane plan. And we deal with tourists, our job is dealing with tourists and our crew of course, but primarily our job is to make sure that the tourists that visit  us here in Belize have a good time. There were certain collective  decisions made on the night of the tragedy that will never again be collectively made. There will be mandatory evacuations of the crew at least twenty-four hours prior to any possibility of a hurricane striking us. We expected that hurricane as you know, to strike right here. When we attempted to bring our vessel right here to disembark our passengers, we were not allowed to do so. We were advised that the hotel would not receive them and we were advised that the city was being evacuated because the hurricane was scheduled, or projected, forecasted to hit Belize City and Dangriga, so we went south. Unfortunately, the hurricane followed us south." (The Wave Dancer did not attempt to return to Belize, Peter Hughes' agent in Belize was the person who advised Captain Martin that hotels weren't avaialble for the passengers, and the hurricane absolutely was forecast to hit the sountern part of Belize.)

"My captain made decisions that I support at this point, but in the future, even though that is where the boat will go, I assure you, there will be no passengers onboard and any crewmembers that are onboard will be absolutely one hundred percent voluntary. They will have the right to park the boat, secure it as you see it, but in Big Creek and leave."

Janelle Chanona
"As for the allegation made by one of your former employees, Miss Angela Luk, that the captain told the Belizean crewmembers that if they left they would be fired, how does your company respond to that?"

Peter Hughes
"You're a professional journalist, you know that anything somebody said can be interpreted or misinterpreted deliberately or accidentally. I think in the heat of the moment, that what the captain said was misinterpreted. I was not there so I do not know what he said. Miss Luk was there,but she was under a tremendous amount of emotional distress at the time. What I have been told by several sources, that my captain actually said was -- she was a temporary crewmember, not a full-time crewmember -- and what I was told he said was, "Angie if you leave, you understand you may not be able to step back onboard whenever you want to." That's what he said. And the other two, who were so unfortunately lost, have been on our   vessels long enough. And one of them in particular, a very dear friend, Eloisa Johnson, who I knew better than Miss Brenda Wade, many, many times in the past when I would visit the boat, if she had a problem with anything the captain would do, would come right up to me and very vocally let me know what the problem was. So I assure you, in my mind and in my conscience, I believe that if they had really feared for their lives at  the time, they would have walked off of that boat, not been afraid that they had been fired. Had they been fired, which would not have happened, I know they would have called me to say hey guy, this isn't fair."

Janelle Chanona
"You mention that IMMARBE is doing an investigation. They have told News 5 that their investigation will not come up with any sort of blame laying. Does your company at this point accept any negligence or blame in the deaths of those twenty people?"

Peter Hughes
"No. We do not feel we were negligent. We absolutely think that we acted in the best interest at the time with the information we had available to us. It was impossible, it was only a matter of a few hours prior to the hurricane striking us head-on that we knew that hurricane would not be north of Dangriga. Had that hurricane been north of Dangriga, you and I would not be having this interview now, we'd be talking of something much more pleasant." (Incorrect. Hurricane warnings issued by NEMO and the NHC out of Miami clearly showed Hurricane Iris tracking west-southwest, toward Dangriga.)

Yanis Gibson, Crewmember, SUNDANCER II
"It was sad, but we can't do nothing."

Janelle Chanona
"Did you know any of the girls, Brenda or Eloisa?"

Yanis Gibson
"Yes. We all grow up together."

Janelle Chanona
"So you noh have any qualms about working now?"

Yanis Gibson
"No. I enjoy it."

Janelle Chanona
"If during the season, this outing and you have a hurricane coming, what will be your hurricane plan?"

Yanis Gibson
"Stay with the boat."

Janelle Chanona
"You'd stay onboard?"

Yanis Gibson
"Yes. It's my job and I take it seriously, so I will stay. Weh fi happen, happen, so I will stay."

According to Hughes, Phillip Martin, the captain of the Wavedancer at the time of the sinking, resigned from his post shortly after the tragedy.

From the Peter Hughes Website 10/25/01:

 “It’s an absolute miracle that any person survived the fury of Hurricane Iris,” said Peter Hughes, President of Peter Hughes Diving, Inc.  (In fact, the only deaths in Belize due to Hurricane Iris were the passengers and crew of the Wave Dancer)

“I know our crew did all they could to protect each and every individual.  They sought shelter in accordance with our hurricane response plan, but there was simply no way for them to predict that Iris would change directions and head straight for Big Creek or that the vessel, crew and passengers would be faced with the rage of the suspected tornado contained within this already devastating hurricane”, said Peter Hughes.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy. All of us at Peter Hughes Diving are in a state of grieving disbelief and shock. Nothing like this has ever happened to our diving family during our 30 years in the charter business.”

The following is an overview in chronological order of the events that transpired on October 8:

Warnings were issued that stated Hurricane Iris would make landfall in Belize City, where the M/V Wave Dancer was based, by Monday evening.  Belize City was being evacuated.

The captain, consulting with M/V Wave Dancer’s land agent and the National Hurricane Center , decided to head south to Big Creek, a well-known safe harbor for boaters during times of dangerous weather.

By early afternoon, while traveling to the safe harbor, the Hurricane changed direction and headed towards the Big Creek area. Due to the speed of the hurricane as compared to the speed of the vessel it was determined that the boat was too far south to turn back.

By 3 p.m., the vessel was secured alongside the pier in Big Creek. The captains of both the M/V Wave Dancer and the M/V Belize Aggressor III, the second boat chartered by The Richmond Dive Club, inspected and approved each boat’s storm securements to the dock.
At 7:30 p.m., the category IV and fast moving storm slashed through the Big Creek area.  In compliance with the vessel’s hurricane response plan, the main engines were started so pressure on the docklines could be relieved if necessary.  As the M/V Wave Dancer was ripped violently from her securement, the vessel’s 2nd Captain attempted to control the M/V Wave Dancer against winds reaching in excess of 140 knots and tidal surges reaching 15 feet. Within seconds, the M/V Wave Dancer was swept approximately 400 feet across the harbor where it capsized against the mangroves on the far side.

Captain Philip Martin, attempted to save lives and aided survivors. The Captain then swam across the channel to seek assistance from the M/V Belize Aggressor III. Accompanied by others from the M/V Belize Aggressor III, he then headed back toward the M/V Wave Dancer to once again try and rescue those inside the vessel.  Tragically, no additional survivors were found.

The 120-foot Wave Dancer is part of the Dancer Fleet of liveaboard dive vessels.  The M/V Wave Dancer had been in operation in Belize for nine years without incident prior to Hurricane Iris.

DATELINE: October 10, 2001 Big Creek, Belize, C.A.

At 6:30AM on Monday Oct.8th the Wave Dancer was at Lighthouse Reef, approximately 80 miles E of Belize City. At this time all reports indicated that Hurricane Iris was going to hit Belize City between 10 and 11PM. Between 8:30 and 9AM our agent in Belize City informed us that the city was being evacuated and their was no place to take the passengers to sit out the storm in Belize City. In the afternoon Hurricane Iris changed course, and was now heading between them and Belize City. It was decided that they were too far south to turn around and head for Belize City with the Hurricane traveling at 22 miles per hour and the Wave Dancer at best (considering sea conditions) moving at 9 knots would not make it back to Belize City in time to miss Hurricane Iris. At approximately 3PM the Wave Dancer was secure at dock in Big Creek, windows covered, decks clear, hatches secure, lines reinforced and passengers prepped. Prior to the heart of the hurricane hitting the area crew members from both the Aggressor and Wave Dancer collectively checked each others mooring lines and returned to each others vessels satisfied that they were each secure. When it hit, no one moved lines or went outside whatsoever. Wind, swells and flying debris made it to dangerous for anyone to leave the vessels. Unfortunately, the Wave Dancer was positioned in front of other vessels and took the brunt of everything that Iris threw at them. Even with her engines on and propelling into the storm she couldn't withstand the force thrown at her and the bollard was torn off the stern. A tug boat was blown free forward of the Wave Dancer and it has not yet been determined whether or not it collided with the ship helping to break it away from the dock. After snapping the remaining lines she began to spin in circles capsizing in the middle of the river. The Aggressor was behind the Wave Dancer, protected by a building and the larger size of the Wave Dancer. 

Two passengers are still missing and are believed to be within the Wave Dancer.  By Thursday AM rescue workers will continue to search the vessel for the two remaining victims. 

DATELINE: October 9, 2001 Big Creek, Belize

Hurricane Iris, packing 140 mph winds, made landfall in the southern (Placencia) region of the Central American Country of Belize during the evening of October 8, 2001, capsizing the liveaboard dive vessel M/V Wave Dancer with all twenty-eight passengers and crew onboard.  As of Tuesday afternoon, the bodies of eighteen victims had been recovered.  Eight survivors had been accounted for as of Tuesday morning, and search and recovery operations are ongoing.  Two members of the passengers/crew are still missing.

The liveaboard dive vessel M/V Wave Dancer of the Peter Hughes Diving DANCER FLEET was capsized by a combination of strong wind and surging water while moored in Big Creek, an area of Southern Belize well known to boaters for its protection from storms.  Big Creek is approximately 80 miles south of Belize City, the site of Belize’s international airport and the point of embarkation for Wave Dancer cruises.  No hotel rooms were available in Belize City to offload the passengers because this area of Belize was evacuated.  Large portions of Belize City were destroyed by Hurricane Hattie in 1961.

The Wave Dancer was moored to a pier with other commercial vessels that routinely use this area as a refuge from storms and hurricanes.  This area and a similar procedure was used in 1998 to avoid Hurricane Mitch. Despite following all procedures for securing the vessel during a hurricane, an unusually strong surge of water apparently lifted the vessel dramatically right at the pier, snapping all of the stern lines and allowing the wind to rip the vessel from the pier and capsize it in the middle of the creek.  This occurred during the evening hours, and rescue efforts from neighboring boats began immediately during the  “eye” of the hurricane in late evening. As the storm resumed rescue efforts were halted for a few hours and commenced early Tuesday morning when conditions permitted.

According to PHD spokesperson and Executive Vice President Tom Conlin:  “Our first responsibility in this tragedy is to continue all search and recovery efforts.  Peter Hughes, President of the company, left for Belize as soon as we received word of the accident, and will personally participate in all ongoing efforts.  Helicopters and search boats have been deployed to the area and are searching all areas of the mangrove system.  All of the families have been contacted to keep them informed about all details of both victims and survivors. We will provide further information and a list of passengers and crew once all these facts are confirmed and the families are notified.”

The l20 foot Wave Dancer is part of the Peter Hughes Diving Fleet of liveaboard dive vessels. The M/V Wave Dancer had been in operation in Belize for nine years without incident prior to Hurricane Iris.  The vessel had been chartered by the Richmond Dive Club of Richmond, VA.

According to British military sources on station in Belize, the most concentrated force of Hurricane Iris hit an area of the Belize coast 15 miles wide.  This path, featuring the most intense wind and water movement, was centered directly on the Placencia/Big Creek area. 

A beautiful Memorial Poem has been written by Cathy Scott-Nixon.  Please click here to read the poem.

For information about Wave Dancer's crew members click here.    

For additional information concerning the victims of the Richmond Dive Club  click here

© 1999 - 2001 PETER HUGHES DIVING, INC.  All rights reserved.
This page was updated on 10/25/2001

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