Pirates who are stealing boat engines from fishermen have been exchanging them for marijuana in St Vincent, sources in the fishing industry are claiming. "The most amount of weed in T&T coming out of St Vincent," the source said. "We understand these engines are going to St Vincent in return for a boatload of weed.
"These bandits are operating around all the fishing ports in the country and they are linked. "They operate out of one of the main rivers in south Trinidad." The source said the marijuana is sold on drug blocks throughout T&T. He said while sea pirates have been stealing boat engines for years, the crime has escalated within recent times. The latest attack on fishermen occurred in the Gulf of Paria recently, resulting in the death of three fishermen from San Fernando and Claxton Bay.
Bandits with facemasks and armed with guns and cutlasses pulled alongside fishermen near Oropouche Bay in the Gulf of Paria shortly after dark in a pirogue and jumped onto their vessels. President of the Claxton Bay Fishing Association, Kishore Boodram, who lost the engine from his boat, Geronimo, and two of his fishermen, Motilal Ramkhelawan and Krishna Apoo, recalled, "They attacked four vessels that night. Ramkhelawan, 44, left behind three children and a mother he supported. "They planassed the fishermen and told them to jump overboard. It was about one and a half miles from shore and the fishermen begged them to throw something for them to hold on to while swimming.
LEFT: Fisherman Motilal Ramkhelawan, inset, drowned at sea after he was thrown overboard by sea pirates. Golin Ramkhelawan, centre, and Ramkhelawan's children, Crystal, left, Alicia and Justin. Photos: Tony Howell
"There were coolers and life jackets on the boats but they refused."
He said Ramkhelawan and Apoo succumbed to a watery death after long hours of swimming. Boodram said fisherman remain fearful and have not been working at nights. He said next month the mullet fish will be in abundance in the Gulf and they may lose thousands of dollars in income if the situation is not addressed. If not, fishermen will have to "gears up themselves in different ways" and take a chance out there, he added. "Fishermen must carry something to protect themselves. The bandits could make a return attack."
Ramkhelawan's brother, Raj Ramkhelawan, spoke to the Sunday Guardian at the Claxton Bay port last Wednesday about how his family has been coping since the tragedy. "He was the sole breadwinner in the family. Is real pressure for them now. "Our mother, Golin, 61, was living with them and taking care of the children since Motilal and his wife separated. "All of us helping out but is real pressure. I am a part time fisherman and have been losing work since the attack because the boats are not going out at nights."
RIGHT: Fishermen, Kishore Boodram, left, Johnny John and Raj Ramkhelawan at the Claxton Bay Fishing Port last Wednesday.
No books for school
Raj said Ramkhelawan's eldest child, Crystal, attends Marabella Senior Comprehensive and the second, Alicia, just passed the SEA examination. The youngest, Justin, attends primary school. Raj said Crystal has a number of trophies for outstanding performance in cricket while Alicia has been showing potential in football. "The children have nobody to help them now. We are begging the Social Development Minister, Glen Ramadharsingh, to please come and visit them." Golin, who still weeps when she sees a photograph of her deceased son, said he promised to buy the children's books the Saturday after he died at sea.
"They still don't have their books. Where he gone, he never reach back," she said sadly. She said the children are traumatised by the sudden death of their father and need counselling. Johnny John, uncle of Ramkhelawan, also a part time fisherman, added, "When he and the children mother separated, Motilal worked hard to take care of those children." John said the fishing industry always provided a small but sure income for many in the area and food, as well. He is urging anyone with information on the stealing of boat engines at sea to contact the Claxton Bay Fishing Association.