US$11.5M in gold grabbed in Curacao

– off fishing boat from Guyana

Thieves yesterday stole 70 bars of gold worth an estimated US$11.5 million ($2.3 billion) from a fishing boat moored off the Caribbean island of Curacao, which had been shipped from Guyana, news reports said.

While gold from Guyana is usually exported via air, given the rapid fluctuation of prices for the precious mineral, officials on the island are reported to have said that the shipment was legal and it was being trans-shipped through Curacao. Administrative coordinator of the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association Colin Sparman told Stabroek News that he had heard of the heist but up to late yesterday had not confirmed the news.

He questioned the legality of the shipment stating that all gold exports from Guyana leave by air given the rapid fluctuation of gold prices. He noted that it would take days and even weeks to ship gold by sea with security also weaker via this route. “Most likely it is illegal,” he said.

Gold smuggling is said to be prevalent here with a significant quantity believed to be smuggled to Suriname owing to lower tax and royalty rates in that country.

The boat reportedly left Guyana on Tuesday and arrived in Curacao yesterday. According to a report in the Huffington Post, masked men in jackets emblazoned with the word “police” boarded the fishing boat–Summer Bliss— yesterday morning.

The report quoted police spokesman Reggie Huggins as saying that the boat’s captain was struck in the head in the early-morning assault before the thieves made off with the gold in three cars. The police believe there were at least six men involved in the heist but up to yesterday afternoon no suspects were detained. Huggins declined to say who owned the approximately 216 kilogrammes (476 pounds) of gold but he said it was a legal shipment that was being trans-shipped through Curacao and officials in the island had been advised in advance that it was coming as part of normal security protocols, the report said. The official declined to disclose the eventual destination of the metal.

However, a crewman, Raymond Emmanuel, was quoted as saying that they were delivering the gold to a company in Curacao, but he did not know the name of the business. He said neither he nor anyone else on the vessel was armed and this was normal procedure. He said he had transported gold in a similar manner once before, according to the report.

Huggins said guards to the port area let the assailants inside a restricted area in the mistaken belief that they were customs officials. The men’s jackets had the word “police” in English but in Curacao the word would be written in Papiamento, one of the island’s three official languages, as “polis,” according to the report. During the robbery, crew members said, the men wore hoods and masks and made off with the gold in a matter of minutes, the report said. Huggins said the captain and three crew members were from Guyana.

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