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Seven fisherman still missing as is the owner of the sunken Eric fishing boat

Created: 15 July, 2011
Updated: 26 July, 2022
9 min read

Crew and fishermen struggle in the aftermath

By Mariana Martinez

Garry, brother of Glen Wong, made a list of all the tourists that where in the boat, along with their room number and health overview. He spent the first night at the hotel taking calls from all of the relatives to tell them they where ok.

    His skin looks like it is about to rip apart from the pink flesh underneath, his wrinkled lips beg for water as do the rocks in this deserted land touched by the salty sea.

    He is wearing the clothes given to him by tourist shop owners; he has no ID and not a penny to his name.

    Despite his apparent sad state, 56 year old San Francisco resident Glen Wong is a lucky man, who survived the sinking of a ship where he planned to spend 7 days on a fishing trip with his friends and 3 brothers.

    “This ordeal changed my outlook on life, people here became my family. I was there in the middle of the sea, four or five boats passed us and could not see us. Every time that happened I thought “That was it,” he says.

    Wong is just one of the 27 US tourists aboard Eric, a 105 foot fishing boat that capsized during a sudden storm at the Sea of Cortez. The condition is known by local fishermen as “Torito” [small bull].

    Wong and the others wore life jackets but floated in the ocean holding on to ice chests. When he was rescued Wong admits he was down to his last bit of strength.

    “After 19 hours, a boat came with 3 men who had heard of the wreckage and came out to look for us, with their own diesel and their own money, nobody asked them to go out there but they did it on their own—I know money is tight for them and yet they came … I would love to talk to them again! Next time I get down here, when I’m a little more organized, I will come down and thank them personally” he adds.

Article - Uber

    Wong and the rest of the group, all Northern California residents, had planned the 4th of July fishing trip and contacted Baja Sport Fishing, a company owned by Gustavo Velez Perkins, and the same company where they have booked several trips before.

    The ship went out of the Port of San Felipe (362 miles from Tijuana) on Saturday morning. It was about 2 am on Sunday in an area known as Bufeo, —close to San Luis Gonzaga—, where the boat was hit by a sudden storm and rapidly sank.

    All of the crew and 19 of the tourists were saved, but less than 24 hours after the incident the body of one of the tourists, Leslies Yee, was found, and 7 others are still missing, including Wong’s brother, Bryan Wong.

    “The company is very well known in the fishing sphere, it has been a sport fishing/travel company for a long time” says Sonora, California resident, Ross Anderson, “I believe what happened was a combination of factors: the storm, the conditions of the boat and the wrong decisions made by the Capitan.”

    There is yet another element tourists left out of the equation but the crew was willing to admit: many of the passengers were drunk and even fought off the crew when they tried to get them out of their rooms and put life vests on them.

    “We had enough floating devices and everyone had one, —except the people who were drunk—, because many Americans go up to the bar after dinner and have some drinks, some beers and you just can’t react as fast if you are drunk” said the 32 year old cook, Alejandro Bermudez who has severe burns all over his body from the effect of gasoline and salt water.

    “I had to carry one of the tourists because he was too drunk to swim… I carried him for over 10 hours, from 1:30 am when we fell into the water ‘till 10 in the morning maybe, when I managed to have him hold on to an ice chest so I could have some rest. By then we had been given some floating devices and the group was split, we all tried to reach land but many couldn’t get there and the sea just dragged them further,” he recalls.

    As of today, investigations are not conclusive and do not point at any wrongdoing either by the crew or the tourists.

Article - Uber

    The remains of the ship have not been recovered in order to assess its conditions but according to the survivors accounts, many believe when specialized divers go into the wreckage late next week, they will find at least some of the remains of those still missing who simply didn’t make it out.

    Capitan José Luis Ríos Hernández, a high ranking naval officer head of Ensenada Port was called in to assist with the investigations. His expert opinion is that the wreckage was an unforeseeable accident created by the “Torito” effect, where winds can whip up to 80 miles in a small area of 30 miles, waves are fierce and rain pours down.

    “This type of storm forms suddenly, they cannot be monitored like regular storms” Rios explains. “The crews’ testimonies agree. Waves where up to 24 feet high and they came out of nowhere, that is consistent with a ‘Torito’ effect”.

    In my few days of reporting the incident down in San Felipe, I was able to witness one of the so called “Toritos” –from the San Felipe shore—, fishermen at the beach directed my sight to a point in the sea.

    At first I could not distinguish anything odd, but suddenly the area was covered by dense dark clouds, the wind at the beach became chilly in an instant, right below the darkness where “Toritos” take their name, came a series of light flashes within 15 second intervals.

    It was like a full blown tornado stuck inside a jar. 

What’s lost

    Almost immediately after the incident was known the military, naval officers and local fishermen went out looking for survivors.

Article - Uber

    It was mainly the community who managed to rescue the survivors and authorities have been in charge of looking for remains or survivors. The families offered shelter, food, clothes to the survivors.

    Representatives from the US consulate arrived within a few days, including vice consul Corey Bordenkecher who explained the diplomatic effort was to assist the tourists in their immediate needs and help expedite their crossing of the border, they had all lost their passports and official ID’s.

    “The US Coast Guard and the Transportation Safety Authority will be assisting with the investigations lead by Mexican authorities in the matter,” Bordenkecher said. “The US offered to volunteer some divers to go down on the wreckage but that will take a little longer because of paperwork.”

    The missing part of the puzzle seems to be the company and its owner. Five days after the boat capsized no company representative or the owner had come down to talk to the survivors or authorities.

    There was no insurance representative, despite the fact both the US and Mexican law requires for all ships to have proper travelers insurance and the people operating Eric would have to show proof of insurance to get clearance from port.

     “We have had no contact with the owner and we don’t have any proof of licenses, permits or insurance. Since last night we were told a legal representative of the company was coming down but nobody has arrived until now” Bordenkecher said late Thursday, July 7th, 4 days after the boat capsized.

    According to public records, Alexander Velez is the registered owner of another boat called “Andrea Lee” based in Los Cabos and offered on Baja Sports Fishing website along with “The Eric.”

    San Felipe is a small fishing and tourist destination with no more than 30 thousand residents. According to the locals, Alexander and Eric Velez are both Gustavo Velez sons and he is the owner of the company. It is his name and not his son Alexander’s that is printed in the company T-shirts worn by the survivors.

Article - Uber

    His permit for operation of “Andrea Lee” (named after his daughter of the same name) shows a San Felipe address, but when this reporter knocked on the door, it was opened with caution by an older woman who slammed it screaming “I just won’t talk to you” [in English].

    “If this had been a car accident we surely had an insurance representative talking to us right now,” Anderson said. “We each had at least $3,000 worth of gear and belongings on the boat”.

    The consequences of the incident are even darker for the crew members. All Mexican, fishermen with families to support were looking forward to a robust fishing season.

    Now they find themselves at the beginning of the season, with money being owed to them by their no-show employer, without work and in poor health.

    “Nobody has approached us from the company” Bermudez claims, “he owes me at least 500 bucks from a previous trip and I’m counting on that to support my family”.

    “When we were rescued we received aspirins, some lotion for the burns, a bag of chips, but we are human beings as well [as the tourists], but we haven’t been offered compensation or support the way the tourists have…maybe because we are not tourists or just because we are poor”.

    A week after Eric went down in the bottom of the sea, the consequences are going to be felt long after: one dead, seven missing, 20 families without means to survive, a severe blow to dwindling tourism coming into Baja California, and one missing businessmen leaving everyone affected – out to dry.

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