If all goes as planned, West Palm Beach will have a new 170-foot, 629-ton shipwreck on July 6. It will be the final voyage for a ship with a unique and long history at sea.
Built in 1972, the Ana Cecilia was designed as a general cargo ship, and she carried goods around the world for almost 40 years. In 2012, the Ana Cecilia made a historic trip to Cuba, marking the first cargo ship to sail from Miami to Cuba in 50 years. She carried charitable donations and gifts from Miami’s large Cuban exile community to friends and family on the island nation. She ultimately made about 10 voyages to Cuba carrying parcels from South Floridians to Cuba.
When cargo ships approach the end of their useful lifespan, they’re often used for drug smuggling and human trafficking, and that’s exactly what happened at the end of the Ana Cecila’s life. Last year, in 2015, she was seized during a cocaine smuggling investigation. After returning from a trip to Haiti, investigators searched the ship and recovered 136 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of over $10 million, including some that were stashed in a hidden compartment in the ship, according to U.S. Customs. The federal government seized the boat and indicted captain and owner of the vessel, Ernso Borgella. He later pleaded guilty of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to nine years in federal prison.
When the Ana Cecilia sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in July, she also carry plaques honoring three families whose loved ones died at sea. The first two plaques will honor 14-year-old Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen who were lost at sea after their 19-foot boat left the Jupiter Inlet on July 24, 2015 on a fishing trip. A sudden storm capsized their boat and they were never found.
A third plaque will honor Palm Beach County Sheriff’s corrections officer Fernandas Jones, his 70-year-old stepfather, Willis Bell, and Jones’ 9-year-old son Jayden. The three drowned when their boat capsized off Martin County on April 10. A cousin, Robert Stewart, survived.
This would be the first ship Palm Beach County has scuttled since 2013. The county’s Department of Environmental Resources Management has set July 6 to drop the Ana Cecilia 75 to 90 feet down off the Port of Palm Beach, making it one of the county’s 150 artificial reefs.