Piracy continues to be an area of concern for fisherfolk and according to Pamashwar Jainarine, the acting chairman of the Upper Corentyne Fishermen’s Coop they are fed up and frustrated over the fact that little is being done to address the problem.
Jainarine who has spent the last 15 years of his life in fishing circles says that it is now time for the government to put measures in place to protect fishermen as is being done in neighbouring Suriname. He said that in addition to firearm licences, the Ministry of Agriculture ought to honour a promise to help them procure satellite radios so that the apparatus already in place can become fully functional.
The bulk of pirate attacks occur in the Corentyne area while there have been some reported cases in the Pomeroon area. The issue of piracy became a hot topic of discussion following an attack in the Corentyne River earlier this month. One fisherman has so far been confirmed dead, three are still missing and one survived.
In a recent interview with this newspaper, Jainarine stated that all fishermen should be licensed to carry firearms to protect themselves. He said that he had raised this issue with the Home Affairs Minister who had told him that they can’t take weapons into Suriname waters.
Jainarine who said that he gave up working on the sea eight years ago and is now the owner of five fishing boats related that in those years his crews have suffered at least 15 pirate attacks during which he lost engines and fish, and his workers were thrown overboard. During one of the attacks, one of his workers, he said, had been shot.
He explained that no Surinamese fishermen operate in the area where Guyanese fish. According to him all the fishing is done in Suriname waters because that is where the fish are in plentiful supply. “Guyana water don’t get good fish. That is why most of the pirate attacks happen in Suriname water and we police nah do nothing,” he said. He explained that the Guyana side of the river has small amounts of fish but on the other side of the Corentyne all the varieties of fish that they want can be found, such as shark, snapper and trout, among others.
He said that based on what he understands, as long as you have a boat registered in Guyana, it does not matter where you are hijacked; Guyana has the authority to arrest the pirates, charge them and remand them.
The man said that what started happening is that the pirates were charged with robbery at sea which is a bailable offence. He said if found guilty the sentence would be a mere two years.
He noted that when the government amended the piracy act, the police were seemingly not aware of it and even though shown a copy of it, “they still don’t understand.”
“We keep saying that these two countries need to sit down and speak and settle this thing,” he said, adding that the authorities in Suriname are taking steps to try to protect their fishermen while the authorities here are doing nothing.
He explained that the Suriname authorities are now putting tracking devices in their boats.
A report in the Paramaribo daily, de Ware Tijd made reference to the tracking device called a Vessel Monitoring System (VSM) and stated that fishermen who did not have it would not be eligible for a licence.
The Suriname Minister of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fishery told de Ware Tijd that he is working on restructuring the sector. He warned that anyone who refuses to comply with the rules will be excluded. The introduction of VMS is one of the measures included in the Fishery Management plan activated at the end of June, but fishermen have to obtain the equipment by themselves, the report said.
The new system is intended to remove irregularities within Surinamese coastal shipping. Fishermen are prohibited from switching it off once it has been activated, and it will serve as a form of protection and help to fight piracy. According to the report the Suriname minister aims to have the system operational on all vessels by early 2015.
Based on what Jainarine told this newspaper at least one third of the fishermen on the Corentyne already have such a device. He said that in the Upper Corentyne there are 80 fishing boats and that these vessels have been registered both in Guyana and in Suriname.
He said that the tracker that the Suriname officials are installing carries a panic button which when pressed will send out a distress signal.
He went on to explain that on the Corentyne they would buy a Suriname fishing licence on an annual basis. He said that the cost is SRD375 (US$150). He said that the tracking device has to be purchased at a cost of SRD1700 after which a monthly rental of US$30 has to be paid.
Jainarine said too that so far he has brought three of the devices but they have not been installed as only a small number of boats here are equipped with them.
He told Stabroek News that what Suriname officials have now indicated to them is that whatever fish are caught they would have to take them to Suriname rather than to Guyana. He noted that most of the fishermen grew up fishing in Suriname waters and as such know the season and the fishing grounds well.
He said that he and the other boat owners don’t want their fish to be sold in Suriname because there would be no fair price there and no market for all the fish that would be going there. “They are saying that they will put things in place to bring down buyers from Paramaribo to buy the fish,” he said, but he worries that this is not enough. According to him, when they bring their fish to the Corentyne there is a guarantee that all will be sold. In addition to that, he said that people who buy their fish are people whom they see and know. On the Suriname side, in contrast, not only will they be selling to strangers but in the event that the buyer does not have all the money to cover payment, there are no guarantees that the outstanding sum will be paid. On the Guyana side, he said, the persons who owe are identifiable. “It is not economical to get that arrangement. It is not logical and it will cause confusion,” he said.
He stressed that the issue is that the fisherfolk are already paying exorbitant prices for the licence and in this regard they should not now be told where they must sell their fish. He expressed the view too that by going to Suriname the officials there will see how much fish they are catching and may want to restrict their movements, resulting in fewer licences being issued. He said that over in Suriname, fishing is a big deal as they want to “protect their resources.” In this regard, he explained, officials there have already put systems in place to ensure that the right gear is used so that the small fish wouldn’t be caught in the seines.
He accused the Government of Guyana and the Fisheries Department of “sleeping” on the issues affecting them as a consequence of which they are suffering.
“I am hoping that this issue will be resolved. It [piracy] can never stop but they can slow it down,” Jainarine said, adding that the captured pirates can be given lengthy sentences as happens in Suriname when a pirate is convicted.
He called on the police based at Springlands and No 51 village to have stronger relations with the Suriname police. He made the point that in Suriname, the police type reports on a computer while over here, ranks have to painstakingly use pen and paper.
Jainarine stated that the Corentyne police have no boat and while there is a Coast Guard base at Number 63 village, there is no boat there either. He said that the Coast Guard has a boat at New Amsterdam. He said that if a report is to be made at the army base, a call will have to be placed to New Amsterdam and Georgetown for permission to use the vessel.
He said that the Ministry of Agriculture has given the coop a boat to respond to reports of hijacking, and that the coop has also been issued with firearm licences. He recalled that last year, they caught a pirate “red handed” and took him to Suriname.
“This is a very serious situation that needs to be looked at,” he said, remarking that when the incidents occur, “everybody get hot and sweaty” and four months later nothing is heard until there is another attack. He emphasised that they don’t patrol but just respond to reports of attacks.
Jainarine said that there is a radio tower and a set that has been installed. He stated that the ministry had promised to assist with the purchase of satellite radios in bulk so that fishermen could get them at a cheaper price, but this has not yet been forthcoming. He said that one radio costs roughly $100,000. He felt that this sum would be hard for the fishermen to raise considering all the other expenses they have. He noted that the Coast Guard even came and “give us a channel but it was never followed up.” He said that as of now all that is needed are the radios. He said that personnel to monitor the radio set can be made available.
Jainarine told Stabroek News of instances where fisherfolk had gone to great lengths to have pirates apprehended but at the end of it all the local police don’t act. He told this newspaper of a case where police took a whole day taking a statement from some fishermen who were attacked and at the end of that told them that the incident had occurred in Suriname waters and there was nothing that they could do about it.
He said that in April this year one of his boats was attacked and they were able to positively identify one of the pirates. He said that the pirate is Guyanese but he is based in Suriname. According to Jainarine, the man was arrested but released on station bail after a few days. He said that the incident was reported in Suriname and the man was arrested and detained for a month.
He insisted that most of the time, victims are afraid to come forward, but this was a case where they had done so and still all their efforts were in vain.
He said that like many other fishermen he is frustrated with the situation. According to him some of those who are attacked opt not to make reports to the police in Guyana because they are not confident that they will get justice.
Asked recently about this Crime Chief Leslie James who has never received such a complaint, responded it is unfair to make allegations without presenting the evidence.
He said before he took up his present portfolio he has heard of such allegations in addition to others concerning incidents where persons within the local fishing community were involved in acts of piracy. According to the Crime Chief it is always easy to make an allegation but proving it is where the difficulty lies.
During the interview with this newspaper he was unable to provide a figure for the number of pirate attacks that have occurred this year but he expressed the conviction that that figure is less than half a dozen.
Asked what the police are doing at the moment to deal with the issue, he stated that there is a marine section which undertakes patrols. He said that there are also Joint Services patrols. He made mention of a floating base in the Essequibo River which is equipped to deal with reports of piracy.
Asked about the availability of boats, he said that while he is unable to give a number, he knows that the Force is in possession of boats. He made the point that the Force could do with additional vessels, and signalled that there is a need for a “preventative approach” to the issue of piracy.
According to James there needs to be strategic type patrols – patrols “flowing from intelligence garnered” with the intention of interdicting that type of criminal enterprise.
Turning his attention to the Corentyne area, he said that there is an issue between the Surinamese and Guyanese authorities with respect to issuing the Guyanese fishermen with licences to fish. He said that this might have been a consideration in not engaging directly with the authorities in that country unless an arrangement is renewed.
Asked what happens when the police receive a report of an attack, James said that one can use the most recent piracy case as an example. He said that in that case, the police received the report and were not in contact with either the owner of the vessel or the captain who is said to be the sole survivor.
He said that even if the police receive a report it is difficult to act without having the coordinates. The sea is different from the land, he went on, and in most cases the police would not be provided with GPS coordinates to indicate that this is the point where the attack occurred. He said that having this information is vital in order to put a joint agency approach together in a short space of time.
He said that fisherfolk also should be equipping themselves with GPS devices.
James stated that the police in both countries have “cordial relations” where they would exchange information concerning piracy. He said that he is unsure whether there has been direct consultation between the force and the agriculture ministry in this regard, but he does know that there is a Joint Services unit that is in place. He said too that whenever these issues come up there are discussions with a view to having preventative measures instituted. James added too that considerations are being given for the installation of a floating base elsewhere.
Recently there was a report in the Suriname press in which Guyana was blamed for taking too long to react on the piracy issue.
According to the article which was published by de Ware Tijd Lt Colonel Jerry Slijngard, of the Suriname Coast Guard was quoted as saying that now is not the time for the blame game. The report went on to say that Suriname has been sounding the alarm for a year already about the shocking incidents at sea, but neighbouring Guyana has never responded. Surinamese officials, according to the report, said that the western neighbours could have done more to stem the increasing cases of piracy at sea.
Lt Slijngard was reacting to the reaction in Guyana about the act of piracy which took place in Surinamese waters on July 8.
Slijngard emphasized that cooperation between the police of both countries is not efficient enough to reduce the problem. “We have to step up cooperation at all levels, including exchange of information in order to react.” The army official favoured more political cooperation and assistance from the Coast Guard of both countries, stating that neither country could deal with the problem on its own.
Efforts to get a comment from Foreign Affairs Minister Carolyn Rodrigues on the issue were futile. The Minister in response to questions put in email correspondence said through her secretary that the issue would be best addressed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Agriculture.
Stabroek News was also unable to contact Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy. When contact was made with his office, his secretary said that he was in a meeting and a message would be relayed to him. However no information was forthcoming. Stabroek News was also unable to reach Denzil Roberts, the head of the Fisheries Department who is on leave, and attempts reach the deputy PS of the ministry, George Jarvis, similarly proved futile.