Missing fishermen leave families in deep holiday blues

-questions persist about the deaths of some

Seventeen-year-old fisherman Vickram ‘Andrew’ Harrynandan who disappeared at sea on November 5 had focused on building a house for his single mother; but she may never know what really happened to him.

Christmas this year was ‘blue’ for Denise Singh and there was emptiness in the home without Vickram, the second of her six children.

She told Stabroek News that he always looked forward to celebrating Christmas with the family.

The grieving mother said it was never her desire for her son to work at sea but he insisted on going because he was “making more money.”

He had already started saving towards purchasing a house-lot and building a house. So whenever his mother warned him of the dangers of working at sea he would remind her of his goal. He also told her he could handle the job.

She recalled that he had dropped out of the Campbellville Secondary School at age 14 to assist her financially and started working with a block-maker on the East Coast. That was until someone introduced him to life at sea.

Vickram worked with other fishing boats before making several trips with the captain, Ramkissoon ‘Greenie’ Sukhan, 53, of Lusignan, East Coast Demerara who disappeared along with him.

The boat belonged to Basdeo Sahadar of Anna Catherina, West Coast Demerara and Denise said she has never heard from him.

Sukhan’s body, clad only in underwear, was discovered about 22 days later with his hands tightly wrapped around a tree on the shore at Eversham, Corentyne.

A resident spotted the body and informed officials at No 66 Fisheries via telephone. But a few days later the resident noticed that the body was still there and went to the fisheries.

Shortly after, Sukhan’s relatives were informed and they identified the body from a tattoo bearing his wife’s name.

Vickram Harrynandan

Vickram and Sukhan were on the boat with three other workers who claimed that pirates had beaten them and ordered them to jump overboard.

They claimed that the pirates shot Sukhan on his right arm and that after the two reportedly went down in the water, the pirates’ boat circled and picked them up.

Wits end
For this year, other fishermen have also disappeared at sea and some families are at their wits end trying to figure out what could have gone wrong while the badly decomposed bodies of others were recovered days later.

On October 24 Chandradat Harrynauth, 49, of Number 73 Village, Corentyne was kidnapped by pirates who had attacked his four-member crew around 5 pm.

Reports are that the pirates forced the crew members into a boat they had robbed earlier. They entered the boat with Harrynauth, known as ‘Kumar’ or ‘Square,’ and escaped with him. They had already dealt him a chop to the back of his head.

On October 1, captain of another boat, Khemraj Cyril and Bisham Mohamed went missing following another attack in Suriname.

The lone survivor claimed that the pirates had beaten them and dumped the captain overboard first before tossing him and Mohamed into the water.

And on September 22, fishermen: Rajkumar Sookdeo, 40, known as ‘Kumar’ or ‘Bruk-up,’ and Murtland Fordyce were chopped and thrown overboard by pirates along with four other workers.

The four workers made it safely to shore but Sookdeo of Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara and Fordyce of West Bank Demerara disappeared.

The badly decomposed body of Sookdeo was found days later on the shore in Suriname and had to be buried on the spot.

Two other fishermen from Rosignol, Mahendra ‘Rub’ Ompertab, 27, and his brother-in-law Kanhai Madramootoo, 41, also disappeared at sea on August 21. Relatives may never know what happened to them.

The two were alone on the boat belonging to Ompertab and were expected home later that day. Relatives and friends had launched massive searches but came up empty-handed. They called it off more than a week later.

And back on January 7, the bloated bodies of fisherman, Pooran Mathoor, 39, of Cromarty Farm and his worker, Fernando ‘Rakesh’ Singh, 17, of Bush Lot, Corentyne were found on January 9 and 10 respectively.

Difficult times
Relatives are facing difficult times, knowing that their loved ones who were risking their lives to make ends meet and to “feed the nation” did nothing to deserve such horrible ends.

Murtland Fordyce

Sukhan’s son, Ramlall was surprised that although so many days had elapsed since the body was found, it was not that badly decomposed, suggesting that his father had survived in the water a few days. About 10 years ago the man survived for four days in the water until he was rescued.

Chairman of the No 66 fisheries, Pravinchandra Deodat had told this newspaper that the pirates first attacked a boat belonging to a fisherman, Rampersaud of the Corentyne around 8 am on November 5.

Rampersaud’s captain and crew members were also badly beaten. The pirates also tied them up and left the boat anchored until around 4 pm.

Sukhan and Vickram had already reportedly disappeared in the water when the pirates circled and picked up the other three as they were struggling to stay afloat.

They then dumped them into Rampersaud’s boat but not before destroying the engine. They were later rescued by another passing fishing boat and arrived at the No 66 fisheries around 1 pm the following day. Some of the workers had to seek medical attention.

But even that information is not enough to convince Denise that something “fishy” didn’t occur because of the conflicting tales the three ‘survivors’ were relating.

A post-mortem examination proved that there were no gunshot injuries on Sukhan’s body despite the original claims.

Denise said she had left her number with persons to contact her in case her son’s body was found.

A few days later she received a call that a body was found at the Albion foreshore and that it was so badly decomposed that it had to be buried immediately on the shore.

She did not believe the body was that of her son though because the description did not fit him. Furthermore, she still has hopes that her son is alive somewhere and that one day he would show up.

She said after his disappearance she fasted and prayed a lot and she and her family have been dreaming him. In one of the dreams he instructed her to talk to a crew member, ‘Crabby’ from another section of the village.

She said she spent a few frustrating hours searching for the man, with persons telling her that he was away at sea. But she kept praying and was determined to find him. As she was leaving, a boy directed her to his house.

Mahendra Ompertab

He willingly spoke to her but gave four different versions of the story. She recalled that first he said he was cooking on the boat bow when he noticed a boat with the suspected pirates approaching. Vickram was pulling in the seine with the fifth catch while the two other men were chatting and laughing, when he raised an alarm. ‘Crabby’ claimed that Sukhan tried to turn the boat around but the other boat pulled up quickly; firing shots in the process. He also said that the pirates ordered them to jump overboard. According to him, Sukhan was clinging to a bucket while he and another crew member were trying to keep her son afloat because he could not swim. She however stated that her son was a good swimmer.

He also told her that he left them to get a bucket that Sukhan was using and by the time he returned, Vickram had already disappeared. He inquired where the boy was and the other crew member told him “he couldn’t make it.”

Another version from ‘Crabby’ was that after they were ordered to jump overboard, her son stood up in the boat and the three of them swam away.

He claimed too that he heard hollering and when he looked back he saw the pirates throwing Sukhan overboard. ‘Crabby’ also said that the water was calm while the other workers said it was rough.

Hard to believe

Ramkissoon Sukhan

Sukhan’s family was also finding it hard to believe the tales that the workers related because of the “set of conflicting reports” and said too that “some fishy business went on.”

Ramlall said his father was looking forward to celebrating Christmas and spending quality time with his family. He said they felt “sad and upset over the whole situation and don’t know what else to do.”

The man’s son-in-law, Anthony said that even if he was shot, there was not a trace of blood in the boat.

He said Christmas was a “sad day for everybody. We’re still going through a time of mourning. We don’t have any feeling of the holiday; something is missing along that line.”

Meantime, Anthony’s wife Molly Sukhan, who was expecting a baby during the ordeal was depressed and upset.

But thankfully both mother and baby are doing ok. She returned home from the hospital on the day of the funeral and according to Anthony, “Instead of welcoming her and the baby home, we were burying her father.”

Ramlall said they are “planning to get the families of the other missing fishermen to form a group so that our voices can be heard. Many fishermen working out there and they are putting their lives at risk.”

In the case of Harrynauth, his wife, Asha Premnauth was still trying to come to grips with his disappearance.

With many young children to take care of and send to school, Asha was not earning enough as a fish vendor and was finding life “rough.”

She believed that her husband was killed by the pirates or he would have contacted her already.

She had told this newspaper that her big family was living in a “lil house.” Even though she and her husband were struggling to make ends meet they were trying hard to make their children comfortable.

They were in the process of building a bigger house which is “quarter way.” She was also distressed that she may never be able to complete it on her own.

After learning of his disappearance, a search party from the No 66 Fisheries immediately went out and retrieved the boat that belonged to his sister-in-law, along the shore.

Harry Singh of Good Hope, East Coast Demerara, who was the captain of the boat that Sookdeo and Fordyce were in, said they were pulling in seine around 7 pm when four masked pirates, armed with guns, cutlasses and wood, came from behind and ordered everyone to lie down.

The pirates beat them, tied them up and threw them overboard.

He sustained two chops to his leg and left hand and a lash to his head with a piece of wood but he was not tied up.

He said he was the second person to be tossed overboard, but never saw the other workers again. It took him all night to swim and float himself close to shore and by then another boat rescued him.

Everything intact
In the case of Cyril and crew member Mohamed, their relatives also do not believe the conflicting reports by the lone survivor.

His claims were that the pirates had beaten them and dumped the captain overboard, then he and the other worker. He also changed his story to say that they were ordered to jump over board and that he had gone first.

Bisham Mohamed

Mohamed’s sister, Geomattie Husman and owner of the boat, Patrick Vieira’s suspicions were further aroused when the fishing boat was recovered with everything intact as well as items belonging to the workers. The engine though, was partly damaged.

Relatives of Ompertab and Madramootoo have found no trace of them, except for a pile of fishing line attached to a “salt-bag” that fishermen found out at sea.

After waiting a few weeks, Ompertab’s wife, Debbie and Madramootoo’s wife, Shielawattie Ramotar decided to bring closure and performed their last rites.

Ramotar had told Stabroek News that “it gat to be that something terrible went wrong wid them that’s why dem never came back.”

She feels that “some time some foul-play musse play out wid dem bai life, something had to go wrong because dem find some engines in Essequibo.”

She feels that they were returning with their catch when pirates attacked them. But she is faced with the grim reality that she would never know the truth.

Pooran Mathoor

As for Mathoor and Singh, it appeared as though they were badly beaten. Mathoor’s wife, Savitri Singh had said he does not go out very far to fish and would normally call her from sea.

She suspected that something was wrong because she made several calls to his phone but they went to voice mail.

She was at the Whim Police Station making a report when a police officer arrived at the station and said that a body was found.

She related to the police that he was clad in a red and white shirt and black pants and they confirmed that it was him. The body had already been taken to the mortuary where relatives later went to identify him.

Fernando who started working with Mathoor six months ago had dropped out of school from second form.

The second of five brothers, he had to assist his single mother, Kalawattie Singh, known as ‘Gully’ to take care of his younger siblings. He also planted a cash crop farm while his mother worked as a domestic.

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