Heavily-armed pirates carried out at least two attacks on fishermen at Iron Punt, in the Pomeroon River on Saturday night and escaped with a fishing boat and engines, and leaving the crew of one vessel adrift until they were rescued by the Coast Guard.
Stabroek News was reliably informed that it was ranks of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) Coast Guard who subsequently rescued the five stranded fishermen after receiving reports of an attack from another vessel.
Up to press time last evening, the pirates were still at large and there was fear among the fisher folk that more attacks were imminent.
Crime Chief Seelall Persaud told Stabroek News that the police received reports of two pirate attacks at Iron Punt committed by four men armed with shot guns. Two of the men, according to him, spoke Spanish; another spoke English; and the fourth man did not speak a word during the attack. The possibility exists that the two Spanish-speaking pirates are Venezuelan nationals.
According to Persaud, no was injured during the attacks.
Asked whether there are police patrols in the area, Persaud said no but pointed out that the GDF has a floating base at the mouth of the Pomeroon River.
The GDF, in a statement last evening, said that Coast Guard ranks responded to a piracy report and later assisted fishermen to safety. The statement said that ranks on Sunday investigated a report of piracy, which had occurred off the Essequibo Coast in the Pomeroon and, in the process, discovered that a second vessel had reportedly suffered the same fate.
According to the GDF, the five crew members of the fishing vessel Tony were the first to report being attacked by pirates. “They made good their escape and filed their report at the Coast Guard Floating Base, at the mouth of the Pomeroon River,” the statement said adding that “immediately, and in keeping with GDF’s Standard Operating Procedures, the Coast Guard ranks at the Floating Base launched a patrol between the mouth of the Pomeroon River and Morawhanna”.
It was while on the patrol, it was explained, that the ranks encountered another five fishermen in an unnamed vessel and they also reported having been attacked by pirates. Their boat was taken along with the engines for the vessel, in which they were found tied up. They had been left adrift at sea. The Coast Guard hailed a fishing trawler and instructed that the men be taken to Charity, where they subsequently made a report to the police.
“Both fishing crews reported that they came under gunfire while the perpetrators made good their escape,” the statement said. Both matters are being investigated further by the Coast Guard and the police.
Stabroek News was unable to make contact with Transport Minister Robeson Benn, while Director of Maritime Safety Stephen Thomas said that he was unaware of the attacks.
Efforts to contact the crew and the owner of the Sunny, one of the boats attacked, were also futile. The boat owner left his home at Tuschen, East Bank Essequibo early yesterday morning to travel to the Essequibo Coast to get the crewmembers.
However, a fisherman, who asked not to be named, recalled that the owner visited him on Sunday and informed him that the boat was attacked by “ransom people”—a term used by fisher folks to describe pirates.
The man, 61, who has been working on the high seas for the past 47 years, said that the boat owner explained that his vessel was attacked at Iron Punt, which is also called Minefield Hole. He said that the pirates placed the six-member crew in their smaller boat and left them drifting.
The man said that the pirates, using the stolen fishing boat, then attempted to attack another fishing boat in the area but the fishermen, sensing that something was wrong, fled.
According to the man, the crew members later informed persons about what had occurred but up to late yesterday afternoon the Sunny had not been found.
The fisherman said that piracy has reached a point where it has become overbearing and fishermen are now frustrated.
Another fisherman told Stabroek News that the fisher folk need guns to protect themselves. “Government ain’t doing nothing fuh we. Long now we asking government to protect we,” the man said, while adding that the talks of patrolling the Corentyne River with Suriname would make little sense.
He said that the pirates work with information and they know when the Coast Guard patrol boats are moored and where they are located. He added that the pirates also use satellite phones to communicate, while noting that there is a 60-mile area where there is no telephone signal.
The fisherman said that in relation to Saturday night’s attack, there was little that the Coast Guard could have done because their base is located 22 miles away. “We can’t get them without guns. Once they know that you are armed, we would have a little advantage,” the man stressed, while adding that their constant protests over pirate attacks are in vain.
Asked if it is possible that foreigners are behind the attacks, both fishermen said no. One noted that depending on where fishermen work, they may have to learn a foreign language. Using himself as an example, he said that he is Guyanese but he can speak a Surinamese dialect because has plied his trade close to that country before.
He said that there are two sets of pirates; one set attack out of revenge and the other’s goal is to rob.
According to him, the soldiers come after the attacks have occurred, and there is not a regular patrol of Pomeroon River. He said that the explanation given to them was that the boats use up too much fuel.
Asked if he is fearful about working on the sea, he said “everybody afraid.”
Fishermen across the country have over the years been the target of armed pirates. Sites in the Corentyne and the Pomeroon seem to be the most vulnerable areas, as they are where the bulk of the attacks have occurred.
Last year, dozens of fishermen fed up with the situation, protested in front of the Office of the President after 15 boats moored off the Essequibo Coast were attacked and their crews beaten and robbed.
Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy has said that vessels needed to be equipped with telecommunication devices and in this regard the ministry was conducting a marketing exercise to test durability and cost of homing and telecommunication devices. Many fishermen had complained that they cannot afford the devices as they are too expensive.