An October 30, 2012 headline in one of the daily newspapers screamed: ‘Pirates on the rampage, fear grips fishing industry’.
During this period, pirates operated with perplexing impunity on the high seas, from Waini to Corentyne, but especially on the waters off the coast of Berbice. Financial losses amounted to hundreds of millions in terms of boats, engines, nets, catch, supplies and personal property. An incalculable number of man hours and profits also went adrift.
The greatest travesty however was that the lives of many fishermen were brutally ended by these rampaging bandits of the seas. Wives were left widowed, mothers were left without sons, children were left without fathers, families were torn asunder. Several bodies of hardworking fishermen were never found.
Those who were lucky to have escaped attack were afraid to work. They stayed put on land and scrounged to make a living by alternative means. Paralyzing fear stalked the seas, particularly the Berbice seas.
Following is a further sampling of assorted newspaper headlines reporting on piracy:
- Pirates steal vessel, dump crew overboard – June 10, 2008
- Fishing crew left adrift by pirates – September 22, 2008
- Pirates attack two fishing vessels in Essequibo – April 24, 2009
- Pirates shoot two, abduct two, in C/tyne River – October 30, 2009
- Boat captain’s body recovered after pirate attack – March 23, 2010
- Pirates target West Demerara sawmills, cart off $$millions in equipment – July 10, 2010
- Pirates send victims jumping overboard – December 21, 2010
- Pirates strike in Essequibo river – December 29, 2010
- Pirates leave Corentyne fishermen to drift ashore – June 7, 2011
- Fishermen robbed $2.3M in Berbice pirate attack
- Pirates hijack boats in Corentyne River – February 27, 2012
- Four pirates attack vessel returning to Guyana – October 14, 2012
- Armed pirates beat, rob two fishermen – November 1, 2012
- Pirates rob Corentyne fishermen in two separate incidents – September 10, 2013
- Pirates strike in the Pomeroon – November 24, 2013
- Fishermen missing after pirate attack – July 15, 2014
- Pirate attack… Boat captain’s wife claimed that she was threatened – July 19, 2014
- Pirate attack… Boat captain tells harrowing tale of survival – July 20, 2014
- Pirates step up activities – July 27, 2014
- Pirates take fishermen’s engine in Waini River attack – September 5, 2014
Such was the prevalence that the Stabroek News editorial of January 10, 2007 questioned:
“Will Corentyne’s coastal and riverine fishermen ever be safe from the scourge of piracy or should they accept it as a permanent occupational hazard?” The same editorial went on:
“Artisanal fishermen for years have complained bitterly and frequently to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Home Affairs about their plight. They have besought the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force to provide better protection and, particularly, to help them to recover their engines, nets and other personal property. Recently, eighteen more of them were robbed and terrorized by masked pirates offshore Albion, Bush Lot and Number 63 Villages.
“Corentyne fishermen are at their wits’ end. Over 200 of them staged a protest last year  to call attention to their plight…
“A large delegation of aggrieved fishermen met Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee last November to seek some relief from the spate of piracy attacks. Predictably, Mr Rohee responded that ‘steps were being taken to remedy the situation’…
“It would have been a remarkable departure from business as usual if, indeed, the [PPP] administration actually had a realistic plan ‘to remedy the situation.’”
Editor, I have noted that the April 29th 2016 edition of Stabroek News, reported that:
“The Central Corentyne and Berbice Chambers of Commerce have pilloried the government over the crime situation saying it seems ‘powerless, ineffectual, and out of [its] league’ in addressing the upsurge in attacks across the country.”
Stabroek News further reported that “the two Berbice business groups also lambasted Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan…”
Editor, I have feverishly attempted to locate the media release from the “two Berbice business groups” commending Minister Ramjattan for his and his team’s work in curbing piracy to such an extent that the Guyana Police Force boasted that there were no piracy attacks for the first quarter of this year. Regrettably I have been unable to locate any such release or public statement from either the Central Corentyne or Berbice Chamber of Commerce.
Further, Editor, with increased surveillance and a slew of other measures piloted by Minister Ramjattan, piracy attacks have been reduced so drastically under the coalition government, that they amount to no more than a handful since May 11, 2015.
From the evidence, it would appear as though the “ineffectual” Minister Ramjattan has led the way in bringing relief from the “scourge of piracy” to Corentyne fishermen who, under the PPP, were “at their wits’ end” and left to contemplate piracy “as a permanent occupational hazard.”
Even considering interpersonal crime, fuelled by family disputes and affairs of the heart, the reality is that crime is lower now than it was for the corresponding period in 2015. There can be little debate that more needs to be done in the fight against crime; however, it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that there are significantly more arrests and charges being laid now than ever before in living memory. Gains are being made.
Minister Ramjattan’s leadership of the sector has imbued a confidence and purpose in the Guyana Police Force which was noticeably absent previously. This Minister of Public Security does not use the clout of his office to direct the police force to not pursue favoured persons and political friends who have committed criminal acts. He does not exact political persecution on opponents or those with whom he disagrees.
These are some of the real changes which have taken place and are ongoing in the security sector. Minister Ramjattan has proven himself, beyond doubt, as a more effectual and competent Minister of Public Security than any of his recent predecessors.
Director of Public Information