The Customs and Excise Department of St Lucia has started the legal process to dispose of a Guyana-registered vessel, which was seized following the discovery of a large quantity of drugs and weapons aboard in 2011.
According to a publication in the local Official Gazette, dated September 2, Rong-An Inc, a Chinese logging company that has been operating here since 2006, is the listed owner of the cargo vessel, MV Vicky B.
According to the notice, which was signed by the acting Comptroller of Customs Rody Alicindor, the vessel was registered in Guyana and its Guyana International Maritime Organisation No. (IMO) is 5239199. The notice described the vessel type as general cargo with its gross tonnage at 319.
The notice, which was addressed to “the parties concerned,” said that the vessel is the subject of seizure by the Customs and Excise Department of Saint Lucia.
“IF YOU DESIRE to be heard you must within twenty-eight (28) days from the date of the last publication of this notice which is being published and circulated twice in the National Gazette of Guyana, notify the Comptroller of Customs and Excise of Saint Lucia in writing of your interest,” it added.
Rong-An Inc’s address was listed as Lot 139 Lindley Avenue, Nandy Park, but when Stabroek News visited there was no indication that the company is housed there.
Stabroek News found a Chinese national washing the yard. When approached, he indicated that he was unable to understand or speak English. Afterward, he quickly went up a staircase which leads into the three-storey building on the property. There was no sign or anything to indicate that a business is housed there.
Residents said that Chinese nationals are occupying the building and their occupation predated 2011. One resident recalled that one set of nationals moved out and another set took up residence there shortly after. The woman was unaware of a company being housed there and based on what she said she was not familiar with the name Rong-An Inc.
A web search also revealed Lot 62, Main Street, North Cummings-burg, Georgetown Guyana, being listed as the company address but Stabroek News could find no trace of it during a visit to the area yesterday afternoon. That lot, based on this newspaper’s observation, is part of State House (the president’s home), which is located at Lot 57 to 63 Main Street.
Rong-An Inc, which was incorporated in Guyana on September 1, 2006, had applied last year to the Environmental Protection Agency for environmental authorisation to undertake large-scale logging in Berbice in an investment pegged at US$20 million. It had planned to invest more than US$50 million in Guyana in various sectors, including an initial US$20 million in the forestry sector.
The company had received a State Forest Exploratory Permits (SFEP) from the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC), designated 2/2011, for an area of 57,929 hectares of forest resources in the upper right bank of the Berbice River.
Both Rong-An Inc and fellow Chinese company, Baishanlin have been the source of much controversy over their forestry operations here.
The Ministry of Natural Resources recently announced that Rong-An Inc is one of two companies that have been awarded lots in the former Barama Company Limited concession in the North West region of the country. The lot awarded to Rong-An Inc measures 417,809.23 hectares.
According to Stabroek News’ research, Rong-An Inc. is a Distributor/ Wholesaler trading company which has an employment number of 101 – 200 people.
Its total annual revenue is US$10 Million to US$50 Million and its main markets are located in Eastern Asia, with the main products being Green Heart, Kabukalli, Bean, Locust and Darina. Its contact person is listed as Cheng Fang.
According to information out of the Royal St Lucia Police Force (RSLPF), on Saturday, September 24, 2011, at about 10.30 pm, a combined unit of police officers intercepted the cargo ship about six nautical miles off the town of Soufriere, St Lucia.
A thorough search of the ship revealed a number of items, including 30 kilos of cocaine, 46 kilos of cannabis, 1 12-gauge shotgun, 15 rounds of 12-gauge ammunition, 35 rounds of 9mm ammunition and five military explosive grenades.
The items were all concealed in a compartment at the extreme front of the ship.
An RSLPF spokesman, Trevor Constantine, had told this newspaper from the island that according to the men they left Guyana in an empty boat for Montserrat to collect sand, which was to be taken St Maarten. He said police on the island received “high tech” information that resulted in the interception of the vessel and the subsequent discovery of the illegal items.
An investigation later led to weapon charges against Linden-born boxing promoter David ‘Shakes’ Christopher and his wife. The Guyanese crewmembers who were aboard the vessel—Carlton Rushel Sam, 29; Hardatt Sookram, 45; Tandu Satesh Ramkissoon, 18; Selwyn St Clair France, 40; Narine Cheecharran, 28; Noel Persaud, 59 (the captain)—were also faced with ten charges each.
The men were charged with possession of controlled drugs, to wit, cocaine; possession of controlled drugs to wit, cannabis; possession with intent to supply cocaine; possession with intent to supply cannabis; importation of cocaine; importation of cannabis; possession of a 12-gauge shotgun; possession of 15 rounds of 12-gauge ammunition; possession of 35 rounds of 9mm ammunition; and possession of 5 live grenades.
Relatives of some of the men had said that the crew left Guyana four days before the interception. After they were arrested, they called relatives saying that they were in trouble and asking that the boat owner be alerted about what had happened.
Barbara, the mother of Cheecharran, had said that when she finally made contact with the owner, the man said he had heard of the incident and that it was not a matter involving the boat but rather the crew members.
The boat owner gave her all assurances that he was going to contact a lawyer on the matter.