Relatives of the five missing Corentyne, Berbice fishermen yesterday accused Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud of failing to keep a promise to have coast guard ranks and police accompany villagers on another search effort.
Several attempts yesterday by Stabroek News to reach Minister Persaud for a response were futile.
Still missing up to press time last night were brothers Khemraj and Narine Dhanpat, known as ‘Rajan’ and ‘Shrimp,’ respectively, both of Number 64 Village, Corentyne; Ramnarine Oditnarine, called ‘Rodney,’ of Number 64 Village; Clifford Singh, called ‘Eggan’ of Number 62 Village; and Sumesh Martin, called ‘Canje,’ of Number 64 Village.
Foul play was suspected after the boat was discovered empty in Suriname on Saturday, 17 days after the quintet set sail.
Upset and in tears, Narine’s wife Premita told Stabroek News that the minister, surrounded by media personnel with cameras and the police, on Wednesday visited Number 64 Village, where four of the men lived and made many promises to them.
She said that during the meeting the Minister was informed that on Tuesday a 16-man team travelled to Caroni, Suriname, where the empty boat was found to conduct further searches but was threatened by a man with a gun.
According to Premita, the man, who is suspected to be a pirate, told the members of the group that if they came any closer they would be shot. The frightened men, she said, returned to Guyana and have not ventured out to conduct searches since they feared for their safety.
She told this newspaper that after this information was relayed to Minister Persaud, he promised that the following day he would organise for the coast guard and the police to accompany a five-member group to the area to conduct further searches.
The worried woman said after waiting for some time for a telephone call from the minister, one of the wives decided to call.
According to Premita the Minister advised that the search crew travel to Suriname on its own since he was unable to make contact with officials in Suriname.
“They nah go because they din frighten,” she said, adding that this decision was made even though the Minister said that once they arrived at that destination, they would have received security from Suriname police.
Subsequently, she said they made several efforts to reach the Minister but his phone was turned off.
“This is very difficult, hurtful and painful to know that someone would do something like this. He give us false hope. He said that he will make sure that today (yesterday] the five villagers will leave and search,” she said, while bursting into tears. She added that the villagers want to go out and search for the missing men but they need security, since the area where the boat was found is very dangerous.
Premita’s position was also shared by Davie, a relative of Singh. The upset woman told Stabroek News by telephone that they are willing to go out and search but Minister Persaud had deceived them into believing that he was willing to help. The woman went as far as to say that they were fooled. She said that the five searchers waited for hours for the coast guard and police to turn up.
According to Davie, when they made contact with the police, they said that they could not go on a search mission until today.
A distraught Premita, who is the mother of two children – ages nine and three years – told this newspaper that school opens in just over a week but she is unsure that they will be going. She explained that she had no financial support and no money.
Narine, who has been a fisherman for most of his life, was his family’s sole breadwinner and with him gone they are surviving on the kindness of relatives, villagers and strangers. She added that the Upper Corentyne Fishermen’s Co-op Society has pledged assistance to them.
“After Minister Robert Persaud came, I had hopes. He promised a lot,” she said tearfully.
The woman said that despite the length of the men’s absence, all she can do is hope for the best. She said that she believes that the boat carrying them was hijacked and they were thrown overboard.
She informed this newspaper that her husband along with another of the missing fishermen could not swim. Premita said too that if her husband were alive somewhere, he would have called relatives already.
Authorities in Suriname have been enlisted in efforts to locate the five missing fishermen. However it is unclear what help they are giving or have given thus far.