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Colombia, Isla de San Andres: Dutch couple found dead; their yacht found upturned

By Variety of news sources — last modified May 09, 2018 10:40 AM
The bodies of Ria and Waldy Finke, an experienced Dutch cruising couple, were found floating off Isla San Andrés, Colombia, on April 1, 2016. Their upturned yacht was discovered upturned and grounded on a reef nearby. See details of the follow-up on this investigation, published March 2018, at the bottom of the report.

Published: 2016-04-04 23:00:00
Countries: Colombia , Netherlands

Colombia, Isla de San Andres: Dutch couple found dead; their yacht found upturned

Courtesy of the Colombian Navy

The bodies of Ria and Waldy Finke, a Dutch cruising couple on the Netherlands-based yacht Talagoa, were found floating off Isla San Andrés, Colombia, on April 1. Although owned by Colombia, San Andrés is off the east coast of Nicaragua.

The Finkes' sloop, a 48-ft steel Van de Stadt design, was found at a nearby cay called Cayo Bolivar, 18 NM SSE of San Andres Island, overturned on a reef minus her keel.

As this point the Colombian navy does not suspect foul play.

The extremely experienced cruising couple had left the Panama Canal on March 25.

According to a Dutch newspaper, the boat was lifted from the water to have maintenance in Colon, Panama. It left the Colon marina on 25th of March. Destination was the Colombian Island of Providencia.

Report (in Dutch) by

paul Wisniewski
paul Wisniewski says:
May 04, 2018 04:13 PM

Ahhhh, It's so sad to read this. Bless the family for having to deal with the lack of answers they deserve.

Siella says:
Mar 18, 2018 08:58 PM

In the Dutch news paper NRC a follow up was published on March 2, 2018. The Dutch authorities have opened a criminal investigation. Evidence points towards a possible encounter with drug traffickers and murder.

What happened to the Dutch couple on their sailboat Talagoa in the Caribbean sea?

A Dutch couple washes up dead at the Colombian Island San Andrés. Shipwreck, says the local police. But that is unlikely. Their children want to know what really happened.

This story is about the last trip of the Talagoa and everything that happened next. The reconstruction is based on conversations with involved people, findings from a loss adjuster, mail traffic, and the testimony of Waldemar Finke Jr.

This is what Marianka and Waldemar Finke Jr know for sure. Their parents were almost married for fifty years. They had a beautiful and adventurous life. They sailed around the world together. On
Friday, March 25, 2016 they left Colón, Panama on their sailing yacht Talagoa to go to the
Colombian island Providencia. They never arrived there. What happened cannot be explained as an accident. A criminal investigation has been dragging on for nearly two years. This is what Marianka and Waldemar Finke suspect. Their parents have been thrown overboard: murdered. They were right in the middle of the Caribbean Sea in the wrong place in the wrong moment.

On Tuesday 29 March 2016 at half past six, the body of Ria Finke (69) was found by an old Creole rum seller with a beach bar. It is washed up on the southeast coast of the Colombian island of San Andrés. According to a local doctor Ria drowned. Waldy Finke (75) is found that same day by a fisherman, a few hundred meters from the coast and northwest of San Andrés. The fisherman ties a rope around the mutilated body and drags it along his boat. According to a local forensic pathologist Waldy’s death was caused by shark bites.

Their sailing vessel Talagoa is found by fishermen at Cayo Bolívar two days later, on March 31 at four o'clock in the afternoon. This uninhabited coral island with palm trees is thirty kilometers (19 miles) southeast of San Andrés. The blue boat is lying upside down on the reef without a keel and with a demolished mast.

Waldy and Ria are on their way home after a world trip of sixteen years. In 1997 they bought the steel sailing yacht of the type Samoa 47: a seaworthy one ship of fifteen meters (49 ft) long and five meters (16 ft) wide. It is named after the Samoan creation god Tagaloa. "Funny", says Waldemar Jr. "They misspelled. They never knew. "

They had traveled around the Mediterranean three times when they left for Cape Verde and crossed the Atlantic to Central America in 2008. Via the Panama Canal they sailed up to Alaska along the West coast of the United States. Back in the Caribbean they are planning to go to the Colombian Island of Providencia and continue to Cuba and Florida. Next, Talagoa is scheduled to return to the Netherlands, via New York, Greenland, and Iceland.

According to Waldemar Jr. the sailing yacht is in good condition. Before departure from Panama, Talagoa was hauled out from maintenance and a fresh coat of anti-fouling paint. "We are on our way!", is the last message that Marianka and Waldemar receive from their parents on Friday, March 25, 2016. From the Panamanian city of Colón it is about 400 kilometers (250 mi) to the Colombian island of Providencia. Their parents are comfortable sailing on autopilot: with the sails trimmed and the helm on a
pre-set course. If the wind is light, they run the engine will start. They think it will take about forty
hours to reach Providencia.

Waldy and Ria send daily 'okay' messages via a location alarm on their GPS. The last message they send is from Saturday March 26, 2016 around two o'clock in the afternoon. At 6:30pm there is still an automatic notification of their AIS satellite system with their location. Six hours later, at 0:30am March 27, the Talagoa is still on course to Providencia, according to an expert agency analyzing the AIS data.

Because there are no more “okay messages”, Marianka and Waldemar Jr. try to text their parents
"Did you arrive?" No answer. Waldemar Jr. tries to call his parents on their mobile phone. No answer.
On Tuesday March 29, 2016 at 10:30pm (C.E.T.) he calls their satellite phone. A strange woman's voice says: "Hello, Hello".

On Wednesday March, 30 2016, Waldemar Jr. calls the Coast Guard in the Netherlands and reports his parents missing. A day later, the Coast Guard of San Andrés inspects a stranded ship on Cayo Bolívar. On board they find the passports of the Dutch couple.

René van Dijk the director of Arntz van Helden BV, a company specialized in maritime and technical damage expertise arrives on San Andrés, Saturday, April 2, 2016. Through an online sailors forum Van Dijk hires a shipping agent as a guide. The navy and Coast Guard put him in touch with a young diver who had already visited the ship wreck. "When I got there, the Talagoa had been stripped completely". Where the keel should be, there is a big black hole. On the port side unknown people have made a rectangular hole in the steel hull of one by two meters. The complete interior has been stolen, including the kitchen cupboards. Even the heavy diesel engine was taken from the vessel. The perpetrators are probably local fishermen.

Van Dijk sees atypical damage on the starboard side. In the steel and in the metal strip
which outlines the deck, there are considerable curves, as if the hull had started to wave. Van Dijk has no immediate explanation for this kind of damage. Nearby in the water the boom is found, with 'Talagoa' in blue letters. He pays the diver to dismantle the boat.

In 2016, the authorities on San Andrés conclude it is an accident. “The ship and crew experienced bad weather, the keel broke off”, says a detective on the island. “Waldy and Ria have been thrown overboard. Their bodies drifted. The ship continued to sail on autopilot. Talagoa stranded on Cayo
Bolivar and capsized on the coral reef”, is the conclusion of the local officials. However, multiple sources exclude that Waldy and Ria died as suggested by local authorities.

First of all, the weather is fine during the passage from Colon towards Providencia, according to Van Dijk briefing other sailors on San Andrés sailed from Panama in the same time frame as Talagoa. In addition, an expertise agency retrospectively assessed the accurate weather conditions of the passage: the sky is blue, the wind force is 4 to 5 bft (15 to 20 knots) and the waves 1.25 to 2.5 meters (4 to 8 feet). Ideal weather for a sailing yacht like the Talagoa. When the coast guard found the vessel, the sails were still up and intact.

Second, “the official reading about the keel breaking off at sea is not a possible scenario”, says Van Dijk. "If the keel had broken off during the passage, then the Samoa 47 would never have stranded on Cayo Bolívar". The designer of the Samoa 47, Cees van Tongeren confirms this.

Third, it is unlikely that Waldy and Ria were both thrown overboard at the same time. According to their children, their parents are experienced and cautious sailors. While making an overnight passage, one person would sleep in the main cabin while the other remained safe in the deepened cockpit. Moreover, it would be a bizarre coincidence that the Talagoa-a-drift heads precisely to Cayo
Bolívar, an uninhabited atoll just a few miles wide amidst a vast sea of endless azure.

Was it a collision?
The only registered ship that was in the vicinity of the Talagoa on 26 March 2016 is
a Maltese cargo ship that commutes between Panama and Rotterdam. The police initially think that a collision seems a possible scenario. However, the British company Exact Earth calculates the Maltese cargo ship was not very close to the Talagoa at all.

Was it a hijacking?
In January 2016, two months before the incident with the Talagoa, pirates on a steel fishing boat try to intercept a motor yacht that is on its way to Providencia. The yacht gives full throttle, manages to escape and alerts the Colombian Coast Guard. The police do not assume that Waldy and Ria are attacked by pirates. The inventory of the Talagoa seems complete when the coast guard finds the boat. They still find valuable items like a laptop and bank cards. Ria is found wearing her wedding ring and a gold chain.
What ever happened probably took place very quickly. On the Talagoa location device there is an Mayday button next to the “Okay” button. The Talagoa never issued a Mayday signal.

Drug trafficking
On Sunday April 16, Waldemar Finke Jr. and his wife Susan arrive in San Andrés. The small island has a booming tourist industry. People speak Spanish, Creole and English. You can dive, visit the old Baptist church in San Luis or go to see a cockfight - unless you do not like animal suffering, warns the official website of the island. At the end of the sixteenth century the island used to be a safe haven where Dutch trading ships found shelter from pirates.

However, San Andrés and Providencia have also been part of smuggle routes for centuries. With a fast boat you are only a few hours from Nicaragua and Mexico can be reached overnight. Drug trafficking criminals have been fighting for access to the islands in recent years. The consequences of drug trafficking are reflected in numbers. In 2005, 300 islanders are imprisoned in the US and Central America for drug trafficking. Between 2008 and 2014, 100 men are killed and about 60 smugglers do not come
back from the sea.

Waldemar Jr. is on the island to retrieve the bodies of his parents. The remains of Waldy and Ria were placed in graves at a local cemetery after their identification on 6 April. Waldemar Jr. speaks with Dolana Christina Navas Newball, the pathologist who investigated his father's body. "It was badly battered. Body parts were missing", she says on the phone from San Andrés. She recognizes the injuries: shark bites. Because there is blood in the stomach, she thinks that Waldy's heart was still beating when he landed in the water. In the village of San Luis Waldemar and his wife meet the old Creole rum seller
Who found Ria. They also see a group of fishermen on the beach selling miscellaneous stuff. The fishermen try to sell Waldemar Jr. a flag: a Dutch one on a stick coming from the Talagoa. When he tells who he is, he may have the flag without costs. They also have pictures of the Talagoa, they say, but he has to pay for those.

Blue powerboat
On April 19, 2016, three weeks after the incident with the Talagoa, Waldemar Jr. receives information concerning a high-speed blue motorboat. Local fishermen have seen a sunken boat two to three hundred meters to the east of the Talagoa. It was a polyester boat of about 9 meters (27 feet) long, with two 150 HP engines and damage to the port side. The boat was a few meters under the clear water and would have had barrels of drugs on board, probably cocaine. Fishermen also report seeing floating barrels with drugs along the coast of San Andrés, in the same time window that the Talagoa went missing. Waldemar Jr. also hears that Cayo Bolívar is not just an uninhabited atoll, it used as a gas station as well. Drug smugglers store barrels with fuel “on the road” to refuel.

The same day, Waldemar and Susan sail with the coast guard to Cayo Bolívar. They find
no 27 ft twin engine powerboat. In the Talagoa, they only find a wine glass, the washing machine, and one shirt that belonged to Ria. On April 22 on San Andrés, Waldemar hears through the grapevine that two men would have been on board of the blue powerboat. One of the men is said to be Jamaican. A
day later he hears that the blue powerboat and the drugs have been salvaged. The boat would be in San
Luis on San Andrés, the same place where the body of his mother was found.

And this is where it ends. Authorities never searched for the blue powerboat or followed up on the rumors spoken by fishermen in San Andrés.

Is it a crime?
Since May 2016 a criminal investigation has been opened. Police and the justice department consider the
story of the blue powerboat as a serious clue. This is what Marianka and Waldemar Finke Jr. fear what happened. The powerboat is unlit during the night and collided at high speed with the Talagoa. A speeding powerboat with the nose in the air; they may not have seen the Talagoa. The peculiar wavy damage on the hull and the bent railing on the deck match with a collision with a polyester boat.
Damage expert Van Dijk thinks it is a plausible explanation. "That wavy damage cannot be caused by
coral. Then you would also get scratches. Also, the vessel made contact with the reef on the other side of the hull. "

The men in the powerboat must have used the Talagoa to take their boat and the drugs to Cayo Bolívar, Waldemar Jr. says. The keel of the Talagoa must have been broken off when the ship collided with the reef. In that case it will still be at the location of the Talagoa. The keel weighs 6,300 kilos.

Somewhere on that last trip, Waldy and Ria may have been thrown overboard. That is what their children think. Their bodies drifted to San Andrés transported by a surface flow of 2 kilometers per hour (1.2 mph) in 'East-northeast' direction. Nevertheless, it is a miracle that the bodies were found after drifting in a deep sea with sharks.

The bodies of Waldy and Ria arrive at Schiphol on 28 April 2016 and are immediately transported to the Dutch Forensic Service. The bodies are in such a bad condition, that only the bones provide information. The researchers see scratches on Waldy's ribs, a shark or a sharp object – it is not conclusive. On Saturday, May 7, 2016, four days after Waldy’s and Ria’s funeral ceremony, something morbid happens. The children receive an 'okay' message from their parents by mail. Two days later, another report follows. “It must be the people that plundered Talagoa”, Waldemar Jr. says. “They messed with the GPS beacon.” The coordinates correspond with an unnamed road in San Luis, around the corner from Club de Playa Rocky Cay. “Now we're going to shatter some doors”, the police states. But in the end, nothing happens. Also, the trace on the earlier satellite phone call does not seem to be pursued. Why the investigation is stalled is not clear.

After 9 months, one legal assistance request is granted. May 20, 2016 the Colombian Justice department received a request for a pathology report and the official report of the police and coast guard. On February 14, 2017, an answer was received. There is no official report from authorities on San Andrés. The copy of the necropsy report is so bad that the photos of the bodies do not provide any information.

On 16 January 2018, Dutch police officers have a meeting in Bogota with the highest officer of
justice and the officer of San Andrés, Mrs Aixa Archbold Triana. They talk about visiting witnesses on San Andrés and using a US Coast Guard plane above Cayo Bolívar with special equipment to find the missing lead keel. The Dutch police also like to share knowledge about ocean currents with Colombian colleagues.

Marianka and Waldemar Jr. also receive new information after the police visit to Colombia. The body of Waldy would have sustained a wound following a hard blow to his abdomen. Ria appeared to have sustained injuries to her pubic bone. The causes of these lesions remain unclear.

Marianka and Waldemar Jr. hope that a criminal investigation on San Andrés will help them
processing their loss. "There are people on San Andres who know what happened," says
Waldemar Jr. “I want to know too. So that the last hour of my parents is not the only one memory
we keep thinking about. All the other times are much more important to us. "

WalFin says:
Apr 06, 2016 05:10 PM

Dear Peter, thank you for your kind words about our parents.
kind regards

kewlrunninz says:
Apr 06, 2016 06:59 AM

I knew Waldy and Ria when they were here in Comox Vancouver Island for two winters. We became great friends as we were both offshore sailors. I caretook TALAGOA when they went back to Holland, she seemed such a stout and seaworthy vessel.
I am totally broken and shattered as to what happened to them. May they forever sail with the sun and breezes as their companion.
I am trying to understand how the keel came off the hull. Was it welded or bolted, being a steel ship I would assume it was welded.

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