T&T Coast Guard officers and fishermen were up to late yesterday assisting their Venezuelan counterparts in a massive search and rescue mission for 25 Venezuelan migrants who remained missing after their boat sank on the way to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night.
A release issued by the T&T Coast Guard around 6 pm yesterday said their Venezuelan counterparts were able to rescue nine of the victims between Wednesday night and yesterday evening. However, some Venezuelan news sources reported that 11 people had in fact been rescue up to late yesterday.
Five of the rescued Venezuelans were reportedly found 55 kilometres north of where their vessel originally sank just off Patos Island.
According to reports, the vessel Jhonnaly Jose, left the Port of La Salina in the Valdez Municipality of the Sucre State on Tuesday night to make a three-hour journey to the western coast of Chaguaramas, Trinidad.
The ship, which was reportedly overloaded, began experiencing difficulties in the notoriously choppy waters off the east coast of Patos Island— an uninhabited Venezuelan territory located five kilometres from the South American mainland and 10 kilometres west-south-west of Chacachacare Island, Trinidad. It eventually sank.
As news of the tragedy began to spread via social media on Wednesday evening, there were numerous conflicting reports from local and Venezuelan officials and media personnel on how many people were on board the boat, how many were eventually rescued in the operation and whether any of the occupants drowned while awaiting assistance.
The T&T Coast Guard release stated that the vessel was scheduled to transport 25 people to west Trinidad but contained nine additional passengers who were not listed on the vessel’s approved crew and passenger list. Most of the passengers were reportedly women.
A press release issued by acting National Security Minister Edmund Dillon yesterday evening essentially reiterated the position previously stated by the Coast Guard.
“While the last known position of the vessel was east of Patos Island, located within the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre of Venezuela, Minister Dillon has given the assurance that the T&T Coast Guard will work closely with its Venezuelan counterpart to assist with the search and rescue operation, in accordance with the Coast Guard’s roles and responsibilities with regard to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue,” the release stated.
For most of yesterday, Venezuelan officials from the state where the vessel originated, took to social media to give updates on search and rescue mission.
Ander Charles, the Mayor of Valdez Municipality of the Sucre State, used Twitter to post photographs of himself and the State’s Governor Edwin Rojas meeting with fishermen who were about to embark on the rescue mission.
Venezuelan National Assembly member Carlos Valero posted the names of the missing people on his Twitter account. The list was updated throughout the day as information trickled in.
Venezuelan journalist Nayrobis Rodriguez posted live updates on the rescue on her Twitter account and claimed the nine rescued people were taken to a hospital in Guiria for treatment by 3.30 pm yesterday.
Reports published by Noticiero Digital said the rescue mission, which began on Wednesday, was hampered by the limited resources of the Venezuelan National Guard and a massive power outage in Guiria.
The incident was not the first involving Venezuelans fleeing their country’s ongoing political and economic turmoil.
On January 11, a vessel carrying 28 Venezuelans reportedly sank while on its way to Curacao. Four people drowned and washed ashore, while 24 were not immediately found.
In an interview on CNC3 News last night, public relations officer of local NGO TTV Solidarity Network, Heidi Diquez, stated that the victims’ families were still praying that their relatives would be rescued.
“This was just a tragedy for those who last night hosted a vigil at the port and were praying for their families to be found alive,” she said.
Diquez also suggested that some of the victims may have visited Trinidad previously to apply for asylum through the United Nations and were travelling to and from the countries to visit relatives and carry supplies. She also expressed fear that similar accidents may occur as more migrants seek to flee the country.
“We do think there is going to be an escalation to the situation in Venezuela is deteriorating each and every day,” Diquez said.