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Cablegate: Tour Boat with 12 Amcit Exchange Students Sinks In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 QUITO 000733

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CASC EC
SUBJECT: TOUR BOAT WITH 12 AMCIT EXCHANGE STUDENTS SINKS IN
GALAPAGOS: ALL ARE SAFE AND SOUND

1. Summary. At approximately midnight on March 18, 2005,
the Galapagos tour boat Andardita capsized causing the twelve
Amcit exchange students aboard and the five-member crew to
abandon ship. All made their way to the Andardita,s dingy,
which was cut loose before the ship sank, and were rescued
about twenty minutes later by other nearby tour boats. The
event was given only the scantest coverage in Ecuadorian
press. Various mission personnel are engaging GOE officials
for information and investigation reports. End Summary.

------------------------
Luckily, Tragedy Avoided
------------------------

2. Twelve exchange students from various parts of the U.S.
were taking a tour boat cruise of the Galapagos Islands.
They were the only tourists on the vessel. Their vessel, the
Antartida, was making its way from the island of Espanola to
Santa Fe. As is common in these cruises, most of the open
sea travel occurs at night so that tourists can awake to a
brand new tourist site. The students reported that at about
midnight, in calm weather and under a star-filled sky, the
vessel took a hard roll to the left and possibly took on
water over the side of the boat. They reported that the
captain at this point cut the rudder hard right - perhaps in
an attempt to compensate for the roll - and that the vessel
rolled hard right - too hard, in fact, because it capsized.

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3. The captain reportedly sent a mayday signal and on his
way overboard ordered everyone to abandon ship. Another
crewmember cut loose the vessel,s dingy and everyone went
into the open waters and made their way to it. Roughly two
minutes after capsizing, the vessel sank. Twenty minutes
later, two passing tour ships (the Yolita and Reina Victoria)
rescued them. The students lost all their possessions but
are safe and sound.

4. The students reported that the vessel felt unstable
during the entire trip, often rolling in calm waters. They
also said that the vessel had a permanent tilt to the left.
Life vests were also a concern. The students said that there
were no life vests on the deck of the vessel or in the dingy,
but that each cabin was equipped with life vests.
Moreover, they did not receive a safety breifing after
boarding the ship.

5. The students are participating in the Brethren Colleges
Abroad semester abroad exchange program with the University
of San Francisco of Quito. Paul Breucker, the coordinator of
the program, said that the program had used the same vessel
in the past with other student groups, and that he himself
had also sailed on it, although he was not on board this time.

6. Mr. Bruecker has arranged three counseling sessions for
the group. Despite the close call, all the students are in
very good spirits and none have asked to leave Ecuador early.
Mr. Bruecker also said that the Tierra del Fuego (the tour
company) and Galasam (owner of the vessel) have contacted
their insurance companies to reimburse the students for lost
possessions. We will monitor this. The consular section is
assisting the students to obtain replacement passports.

7. Despite the potential catastrophe, the event garnished
very little attention in the local press. The public affairs
section reported only one small blurb in one of the national
newspapers.

-------
Comment
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8. Thankfully, all the students were on deck admiring the
stars and enjoying the weather when this occurred. An hour
or so later and most probably would have been sleeping in
their cabins and this cable would be tragic.

9. Post is obviously concerned about the students, reports
that there were no life vests on deck or in the dingy or that
they did not receive a safety briefing. Also, the unstable
character of the vessel is cause for concern. A leading
tourist player in Guayaquil told us that this is not the
first Galasam boat to capsize, hinting that extra decks are
sometimes added to boats without the extra ballast required
to stabilize them. The Coast Guard attach is seeking a
report from his counterparts and other Mission personnel are
seeking similar details. The topic will also be covered at
Post's regular Galapagos Working Group meeting, along with
officials from the Consulate General in Guayaquil.

KENNEY

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