Speedboat trying for record crashes off Guatemala; 1 fisherman missing

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – A pioneering, biodiesel-fueled powerboat trying to set a speed record for circling the globe collided with a fishing skiff off Guatemala’s Pacific coast, leaving one fisherman missing and another seriously injured, the Guatemalan military said Monday.

The needle-nosed trimaran with the name “Earthrace” painted on its hull was docked at a naval base in Puerto San Jose on Monday. Earthrace spokeswoman Devann Yata told The Associated Press by telephone that the vessel was involved in the collision.

The four crewmembers, from the United States and New Zealand, were taken to a navy base for questioning, said army spokesman Daniel Dominguez.

Authorities were still searching for the missing fisherman, Dominguez said.

None of the speedboat’s crew was injured in the collision, which happened early Sunday off the coast of Tiquisate, about 45 miles south of Guatemala City, Dominguez said.

Yata declined to give any other details about the crew or their status, except to say that “they’re in some discussions right now.”

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the 78-foot trimaran’s captain, Pete Bethune of New Zealand, said the fishing boat did not have its running lights on at the time of the collision.

Bethune said he dived into the ocean to try to save the missing fisherman and that his shipmate was seriously injured, the Morning Herald reported on its Web site.

He told the paper the Earthrace crewmembers were not injured and had been confined to the vessel. He added they were scheduled to appear in a local court and he had hired local attorneys.

“It’s been a tragedy – the crew’s shellshocked,” he was quoted as saying. He did not identify the others on board.

The Guatemalan military said fisherman Pedro Feliciano Salazar, 51, was hospitalized with serious injuries, and Juan Carlos Contreras, 21, had minor injuries. Julio David Galiano Contreras, 51, was still missing.

According to the race boat’s Web site, the carbon and Kevlar composite craft runs on biodiesel fuel and has a top speed of 56 mph.

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, said Jose Marquez, harbor master for the Acapulco yacht club. Marquez, who said he was supposed to supply the boat with about 2,640 gallons of biodiesel when it arrives, told the AP he had not had any contact with the crewmembers 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 by the Colombian navy.

[i]Associated Press writers Lisa J. Adams and Peter Orsi contributed to this report from Mexico City.[/i]