With their psyches mortally wounded by the murders of their colleagues, fishermen operating in the Gulf of Paria are contemplating arming themselves to fight off pirates.
The tragedy of losing seven fishermen in a brutal attack three weeks ago led to an emotional outpouring among fisherfolk during a meeting at the Orange Valley Fish Market in Couva Saturday.
The incident sparked an outcry for help from Opposition politicians who claimed not enough was being done to help the families of the murdered fishermen or recover their bodies.
The meeting, organised by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS), facilitated a conversation between fishermen, Coast Guard and police over marine security.
“That is what we have to do now. I am taking my little book money that I have to mind my children to go to school. I have to take that to buy a gun because this is what it has come to. Watch me, the only thing I know how to do is fish… What am I going to do?” fisherman Deonarine Ramroop said.
Coast Guard Lt Commander Torinio Tracy address fishermen at the Orange Valley Wholesale Fish Market, Orange Valley, Couva, yesterday as they discussed their security concerns. Centre is Lt Kerron Valere and Lt Commander Anthony Hector.
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Even though FFOS secretary Gary Aboud warned that the media was present and about the possibility of being arrested by police, Ramroop said that it was a risk he was willing to take for his colleagues.
“Let them come. Let them search my boat, they will get it because it is there I will be defending myself. What do you want me to come home and tell my little children? I can’t come back and tell them anything when I am dead. If I have to get a little gun case, it is best I take a gun case. I am willing to put up with that for the sake of all the fishermen because this is what it comes to. That is a war zone out there. They’re taking our engines, they’re planassing us, beating us and on top of it, they’re saying ‘kill them, throw them overboard’.”
Nixon Kissoon’s, whose son Justin, 19, was one of the seven men beaten and thrown into the sea, said there was not much choice for the fishermen. He said unless the authorities put measures in place, the fisherfolk will have to take matters into their own hands.
Sometime after midnight on July 22, pirates carried out a series of attacks on fishing vessels in the Gulf of Paria. Reports indicate that fishermen from the Orange Valley and Carli Bay communities were beaten and thrown into the waters before pirates stole their engines and vessels. Some were fortunate to swim back to shore while five others drowned. Their bodies were recovered, but two others remained missing up until today are feared dead.
One man from Sea Lots, Port-of-Spain has been charged with their murders while two woman and another man were charged with stealing two of the engines which were recovered in Sea Lots hours after the attack. Police were able to track the stolen engines which had GPS devices.
Among the requests fishermen put forward was for them to access flare guns, government’s provision of radar equipment to aid the apprehension of pirates and improve the communication and response by the Coast Guard to distress calls.
Aboud also suggested that a national body be established to represent fishermen in approaching the Government to bring legislation to improve and better secure the fishing industry. Aboud also called for a national campaign aimed at training fishermen to swim and wants established fishing zones where vessels keep 300 metres away from fishermen in the sea. He also said that GPS should be hidden on vessels to help the Coast Guard to track bonafide fishermen.
ACP Jayson Forde addresses fishermen at the Orange Valley Wholesale Fish Market, Orange Valley, Couva, yesterday.
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Responding to the concerns, Lt Commander Torino Tracy, who led the search for the missing fishermen, provided new telephone numbers. There were previous complaints from the families of the dead fishermen that the Coast Guard numbers were not working. Tracy also defended the search for the fishermen, saying that even though vessels were not seen at all times, they were there. He said they used Computer-Assisted Search Planning which analyses time and sea condition to chart a search pattern.
He advised that when fishermen are going to sea, they should inform the Coast Guard about the number of vessels being launched and location so that patrols are made in those areas. While the Coast Guard is patrolling to keep them safe, he wants the fishermen to report all suspicious activities as well.
Coast Guard public relations officer, Lt Kerron Valere added that fishermen should also provide as much information to their families.
In cases of an emergency, he said the family should be able to provide information about the type, size and colour of the missing vessels and the type of engines.
Valere said that if plans change along the route, they should send text messages as even though the cell service may fluctuate, the message may go through as they move.
Supt Anand Ramesar suggested that fishermen should formulate a list of bonafide members along with copies of national identification and references, and submit a request for permits to the Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith to legally acquire flare guns.