Guyanese crew back home after jail sentences in St. Lucia for weapons, drugs found aboard boat

Six Guyanese men, who were found aboard a cargo boat laden with weapons and drugs in St. Lucia’s waters in 2011, returned home in February after admitting to the offence and serving prison sentences.

Nonetheless, the mother of one of the men is still insisting that her son was innocent of any wrongdoing and says that while she is thankful that he is back home, it hurts to know that the owner of the boat will never be held accountable for the pain and suffering the crew and their families endured.

On October 4, 2011, Carlton Rushel Sam, Hardatt Sookram, Tandu Satesh Ramkissoon, Selwyn St Clair France, Narine Cheecharran, and Noel Persaud, who was the captain, appeared in the First District Court in Castries on multiple charges. They 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 one 12-gauge shotgun; possession of 15 rounds of 12-gauge ammunition; possession of 35 rounds of 9mm firearm; and possession of 5 live grenades.

Cheecharran’s mother, Barbara, told Stabroek News from her home in Berbice yesterday that she and her relatives pooled together money to purchase her son’s plane ticket so that he could return home upon the completion of his prison sentence earlier this year.

“They had to admit or else they woulda remain on remand and be in jail for a long time,” she said.

According to the woman, at the time of her son’s arrest, he was the sole breadwinner of the family. After his detention, her daughter assisted with some money, which was used to hire a lawyer. She said because the incident occurred in another country and there were limited options for communication, it was difficult for them to get information, even from the attorney, about what was happening in the court.

She said that after her son made a decision to plead guilty, he was sentenced to several years in prison.

The woman insisted that her son was not deported. She said the relatives of all the men were given the option of purchasing their plane tickets so that they could return to Guyana.

She said that upon his return, her son made several attempts to seek employment but was unsuccessful. Cheecharran, she said, is now engaged in fishing and is often away from home.

Barbara, who described herself as a poor woman, said her family would send a small amount of money to her son every month and she called him as often as she could to ensure that he was alright. The woman said based on her son’s account, he was well taken care of in prison and was given numerous educational opportunities. He even has plans to rewrite some Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, she said.

“I suh glad he back home…They were all innocent and ah know he learn he lesson from that… I get over it cause ah get he back,” she said.

She recalled that following the incident, she kept in contact with the relatives of some of the other men. Like her, she said, they were “tekin on” their arrest.

Barbara identified the owner of the boat as Davonan Sookram. Sookram’s decomposing remains were found at Ruby Backdam on July 31, 2015, days after he was reported missing. His body bore a gunshot wound to the head. Ex-policeman Ruel Brandon, who was charged with the murder, was acquitted in the High Court in July this year.

According to Barbara, following the arrest of her son, Sookram had ignored her. “The owner disowned all ah dem and the ship. He lef them men…I get information where he was and I went and I reach he and he say that he would see everything go all right but he did not stick to he word,” she said.

Barbara said that she is disappointed that Sookram left her son and the others to suffer for a crime that they did not commit and she insisted that he had the power to ensure that they either got a lighter sentence or were sent back home. “I am very disappointed that the owner wouldn’t be brought to justice. He never acted nice. We expected that he woulda go to St. Lucia and put in a good word for them but he didn’t,” she said, while noting that the captain’s wife was the only family member who travelled to St. Lucia. “I disappointed yea but thank God everything went alright and everybody back home,” the woman stressed.

Then spokesman of the Royal St. Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) Trevor Constantine had told Stabroek News that on Saturday, September 24, 2011 at about 10.30pm, a combined unit of police officers intercepted the cargo ship Vicky-B, about six nautical miles off of Soufriere, Saint Lucia. A thorough search of the ship revealed a number of items, including 30 kilos of cocaine, 46 kilos of cannabis, a 12-gauge shotgun, 15 rounds of 12-gauge ammunition, 35 rounds of 9mm ammunition and five military grenades. The items were all concealed in a compartment at the extreme front of the ship.

A probe later led to a gun and ammo charge against Linden-born boxing promoter David ‘Shakes’ Christopher and his wife. They appeared in court and were granted bail in the sum of EC $10,000, cash or surety, each.

Constantine had said that the men were telling ranks that they left Guyana in an “empty” boat to collect sand in Montserrat. The sand, according to the men, would have then been transported to St. Maarten.

Sookram, who was being sought by police here, had surrendered in the company of his lawyer but was later released.

The Customs and Excise Department of St Lucia in September 2017 started the legal process to dispose of Vicky B.  A publication in the local Official Gazette, dated September 2, listed Rong-An Inc, a Chinese logging company that has been operating here since 2006, as the owner of the cargo vessel. Stabroek News has since learnt that prior to its interception the boat had been sold. The identity of the new owner has not been revealed.

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