Record-Attempt Speedboat Collides With Guatemalan Fishing Skiff; One Fisherman Missing

Monday, March 19th 2007, 6:59 pm

By: News On 6

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ An exotic, US$3 million (euro2.3 million) speedboat trying a round-the-world record attempt collided with a fishing skiff off Guatemala's Pacific coast, leaving one fisherman in the hospital and another missing, the Guatemalan army said Monday.

The 78-foot (24-meter) trimaran's captain, Peter J. Bethune of New Zealand, told The Associated Press in a phone interview that he dived into the water after the crash in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the now-missing fisherman.

``The crew is unhurt, but we are all very upset,'' he said.

The unusual, needle-nosed trimaran with the name ``Earthrace'' painted on its hull was docked at a naval base in Puerto San Jose on Monday.

Australian newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Bethune as saying that the fishing boat did not have any lights on at the time of the collision.

Bethune would not confirm that information, saying that he and others had been advised to not talk much to the news media until after they had appeared before a judge.

``I don't want to say too much because I'm in a place that I know little about right now,'' he said.

Army spokesman Daniel Dominguez said authorities were searching for the missing fisherman after the early Sunday collision about 30 kilometers (20 miles) off the coast of Tiquisate, 45 miles (75 kilometers) south of the capital, Guatemala City.

The Guatemalan military said in a statement that fisherman Pedro Feliciano Salazar, 51, was hospitalized with serious injuries, and 21-year-old Juan Carlos Contreras suffered minor injuries. Julio David Galiano Contreras, 51, was still missing.

Bethune said the record attempt was being filmed for a Discovery Channel program.

A press release on Discovery's Turbo Web site said two of the fishermen quickly swam to the speedboat while the third was thrown a life buoy but failed to grab it.

``Earthrace Skipper, Pete Bethune, dove into the water to rescue the third person; however the fisherman disappeared by the time Bethune reached him,'' it said.

The injured fisherman were treated by a doctor on the boat as they headed to port.

Dominguez said the crew members _ Bethune; Ryan C. J. Heron, of New Zealand; and Anthony A. Distefano and David D. Stark, of the United States _ were taken to a navy base for questioning.

``We are not free to roam around, we are not free to leave the military base,'' said Bethune, who added that he expected the crew to remain in Guatemala at least until the end of the week. ``But we are being treated outstandingly well.''

The fishermen were quoted by local news media as saying that the crash occurred while they were asleep on their boat.

According to the race boat's Web site, the carbon and Kevlar composite craft runs on biodiesel fuel and has a top speed of 45 knots (56 miles per hour; 90 kilometers per hour).

The ``Earthrace'' Web site describes the craft as a ``wave-piercing powerboat'' from Auckland, New Zealand. It began its bid to break the world circumnavigation record of 75 days _ set by British boat Cable & Wireless in 1998 _ on March 10 in Barbados, and completed the first leg of the trip in 83 hours, according to a site posting.

Its next stop was to be Acapulco, Mexico, either Monday or Tuesday, Jose Marquez, harbor master for the Acapulco yacht club, told The Associated Press. Marquez, who said he would supply the boat with 50 barrels, or about 10,000 liters (2,640 gallons) of biodiesel when it arrives, said he had not had any contact with the crew members on Monday.

Earthrace has had other mishaps in Latin American waters. According to the Web site, the vessel's propellers nearly failed on the way to Panama, and the boat was briefly fired upon and searched in October 2006 by the Colombian navy.

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