More than 30 tourists were traveling aboard the Reina del Caribe vessel on January 23rd between the popular tourist destinations Corn Island and Little Corn Island when strong winds and rain caused it to capsize.
Captain Hilario Blandón led the vessel across the stretch between the islands, but 25-30-knot winds and rain overpowered it, and caused it to overturn, resulting in 13 fatalities, all citizens of Costa Rica. The remaining tourists, including 12 Costa Rican, four American, three Nicaraguan, and two British citizens, among others, were rescued.
Nicaraguan Navy, Coast Guard, and Air Force officials jumpstarted the coordination efforts to deploy a Nicaraguan Coast Guard vessel and a helicopter for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, while the government procured the assistance of the United States through the U.S. Embassy in Managua, which then reached out to U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) for support. Joint Task Force-Bravo, a SOUTHCOM component in Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, responded by providing helicopters to join the SAR operation in the area surrounding the capsized boat, 12 miles off Corn Island. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) was already on the scene with a helicopter and a vessel when the JTF-Bravo helicopters arrived.
Javier Sancho Bonilla, Costa Rican Ambassador to Nicaragua, personally thanked the joint Nicaraguan-U.S. Armed Forces effort during his visit to the Nicaraguan Air Force facility serving as the Command and Control Center for the SAR operation. “There is always great solidarity and affection among families or the people in sister countries like ours," said Ambassador Sancho quoted by Nicaraguan news portal El 19 Digital . “We are very grateful to the Nicaraguan government, especially to President [Daniel] Ortega and [Nicaraguan First Lady] Mrs. Rosario Murillo.”
For their part, the USCG through their District 7 unit in Miami, Florida, the U.S. Embassy team in Nicaragua, and JTF-Bravo assisted in the Nicaraguan-led, cooperative rescue effort between the two partner nations, producing the rescue of 21 passengers, as well as recovering the bodies of the 13 shipwreck victims. “Though dealing with an unfortunate event, the SAR operation provided an excellent combined and joint experience and assisted us in strengthening our bonds with Nicaragua,” stated U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Carlos E. Moya, Director of Civil-Military Operations at JTF-Bravo. “The professionalism and willingness to cooperate by all parties involved set an outstanding regional example.”
"JTF-Bravo demonstrated their value as a partner in international search and rescue during this case," said Capt. Todd Coggeshall, Seventh Coast Guard District search and rescue mission coordinator. "The coordination between the U.S. Coast Guard, Southern Command and the Nicaraguan government led to an effective response and the location of the capsized vessel and nearly all of the missing passengers."
The three countries’ interagency partners worked together following the operation to repatriate the bodies of the victims and get medical treatment for the survivors before helping them return home. In a show of respect, Costa Rica declared a National Day of Mourning on January 25th, according to the news portal CNN Español .