Aerial search for missing fishermen fruitless

An aerial search by Surinamese authorities for the five missing Corentyne fishermen has yielded no clues as to what happened to them and yesterday a team of volunteers travelled to the neighbouring country to assist.

Relatives of the men told Stabroek News that they left yesterday morning for Suriname where they were supposed to meet with officials there. They said that they have not heard from members of the team, who are likely to return home today.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud during a press conference attacked Stabroek News over an article in yesterday’s edition, headlined ‘Minister broke promise of security for fishermen search – relatives,’ stating that the newspaper was working with the opposition parties.

Relatives of two of the missing fishermen contacted this newspaper by telephone on Wednesday and said that the Minister failed to keep a promise to have coast guard ranks accompany five villagers on another search attempt. This promise, they said, was made during a visit on Wednesday.

Stabroek News made several attempts to contact Minister Persaud on Thursday after speaking to the relatives but his cellular phone was turned off. This newspaper was also unable to contact Parmanand Persaud, the Farmer’ Relations Specialist, on a number provided. Parmanand Persaud informed Stabroek News yesterday that the number can only receive text messages.

In addressing members of the media, Minister Persaud said that following his visit with the relatives, a member of the opposition visited and “was trying as much as possible very, very hard to milk the situation.” He added that when people are in distress and in difficult circumstances, it is inhumane and uncompassionate to indulge in such practices. The Minister went on to say that this newspaper “with its own agenda” has been enlisted by these political operatives.

Minister Persaud said that he was very disappointed when he read the article “knowing that they (Stabroek News) didn’t even call the Co-op society for a statement about their efforts”.

“It is unbecoming of the Stabroek News to join that charade. I know it’s elections but we have five brothers who are missing and this is not the time to be scoring political points,” he stressed.

Stabroek News Editor-in-Chief Anand Persaud, in a comment on the attack on the newspaper, said that Minister Persaud should focus more of his attention on convincing the relatives of the five men that he is living up to the commitments that he made to them. He said the newspaper was contacted by the family members and acted upon the concerns that they had raised.

Reporters were yesterday told that officials here are in direct contact with the coast guard, the police and the relatives of the missing men.

A number of representatives from the Upper Corentyne Fishermen’s Society are in the process of joining the Suriname authorities who have already mounted their search in Suriname.

Meanwhile, the Society in a statement said that Stabroek News misrepresented the facts saying that this newspaper “chose to use the grieving family of the fishermen to carry out their own agenda without sticking to the facts or seeking clarification from the relevant authorities.” Stabroek News’ Editor-in-Chief, however, said no facts were misrepresented. He pointed out also that the first report of the missing fishermen was carried in the Stabroek News of August 22 and it was only then that a flurry of steps was announced. He said that authorities had several days before August 22 to initiate action and alert the general public that the fishermen were missing but didn’t avail themselves of this opportunity.

The co-op statement yesterday said that immediately after receiving the report that the men were missing, contact was made with the police, the army and the Foreign Affairs Ministry and assistance sought in conducting a search.

The Ministry of Agriculture, it added, has also contacted the Fisheries Department of Suriname seeking their assistance with information into the whereabouts of the fishermen. A search and rescue team, according to the statement, departed the Co-op society, which is located at No. 66 Village, Corentyne on Monday. The statement did not say if the search team has since returned.

It said that since the minister’s visit permission was sought for family members and members of the Co-op to enter Suriname to conduct searches and “a team along with the boat owner had departed earlier today (yesterday).”

Further it said that an aerial search was conducted by Suriname authorities on Thursday and the Co-op continues to remain in contact with the Fisheries Department, Security Agencies, Suriname Authorities and family members to provide updates on search and rescue efforts.

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 last Saturday, 17 days after the quintet set sail.

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