Yachting event cancelled over reports on pirate attacks

Yachts in the Mazaruni River. (Stabroek News file photo)

An international yachting event that was due to be hosted here next month has been cancelled following reports in the local and international media stemming from deadly attacks on fishermen off the coast of Suriname earlier in the year.

A statement issued by Public Communications Consultants Limited yesterday confirmed the cancellation of the 6th International Nereid’s Rally, which was to be hosted at the Hurakabra River Resort, located on the west bank of the Essequibo River, on September 13th.

It explained that the International Rally, which was scheduled to host some 15 yachts, suffered the “sudden, short notice withdrawal of 11 yachts,” resulting from the widespread domestic and international publicity given to the attacks.

The statement cited headlines in the local press and online and noted that they found their way into the international media, on to specialist websites upon which cruising yachts rely for their information, and less than a week ago, into a major Washington Post story reporting on attacks at sea on Trinidad and Tobago boats (not yachts) from Venezuela offshore Trinidad.

“The Washington Post story, unfortunately, reports that: “In April, masked men boarded four Guyanese fishing boats floating 30 miles off the coast of the South American nation,”” it said, while noting that the story reports that “David Granger, the President of Guyana, decried the attack as a “massacre.” The story further reported that “Guyanese authorities linked the story to gang violence in Suriname.”

The statement said that sadly for Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, whose offshore seas are traversed by the International Nereid’s Rally, they have been labelled in the minds of yachtsmen as a place where piracy occurs and where they do not belong.

It noted that the owners of the majority of the yachts are “live aboards,” meaning the boats are their homes at sea.

Kit Nascimento, who is a representative of the organisers of the International Rally, expressed “his huge disappointment and frustration at this setback to the progress we have made in making Guyana and the Essequibo River a place where yachts are welcomed and can safely sail to enjoy themselves and, at the same time, enjoy Guyana. One yacht, for instance, had already requested a booking for its crew and friends to visit Kaieteur Falls.” 

Nascimento, whom the statement said has been intimately involved in the planning and development of identifying Bartica and the Essequibo River as a Caribbean yachting destiny for the past 20 years, was also reported as saying that it is particularly frustrating because “criminal attacks on small fishing boats” offshore Suriname and Guyana have been blown into “piracy on the high seas,” which is entirely untrue and misrepresentative of the reality.

He went on to say that he hopes to work closely with the Ministry of Tourism and the Guyana Tourism Authority to address the challenge with which a vital tourism event for Guyana is now unfairly confronted.

The statement also noted that at last week’s Regional Tourism Consultation Workshop, at which regions were challenged to name their flagship projects, Region Seven’s Chairman Gordon Bradford identified “yachting” as the flagship project for Bartica.

Over a dozen fishermen lost their lives in the deadly attacks that occurred between April 27th and May 3rd, off the coast of Suriname.

On April 27th, four boats carrying a total of 20 persons were attacked off the coast of Suriname.

The perpetrators, reportedly armed with guns and cutlasses, chopped and beat the fishermen before robbing them. Some of the men were ordered to jump overboard with their injuries, while others were thrown overboard with batteries strapped to their legs.

Four men who survived the attack swam until they were rescued by passing vessels. Two weeks later, another survivor was found.

Those feared dead have been identified as Tilaknauth Mohabir, 50, also known as ‘Kai’; Ganesh Beharry; Ralph Anthony Couchman, 19, also known as ‘Burnham’; Ramesh Sancharra, 48; Glenroy Jones, 21; Ramnarine Singh; Bharat Heeralall, also known as “Record,” 49; Sunil, known as Poddock; Mahesh Sarjoo, 35; Rajkumar Bissessar; Randy Burnette; and Olenski Maxwell. Three other fishermen are still to be identified.

One week later, there was another attack out on the coast of the Matapica Canal, approximately eight miles from the mouth of the Paramaribo River, which claimed the life of Hardeo Beechan, called Ganesh, 32. Beechan was the captain of the boat which was attacked.

Following the attacks, the local police had collaborated with their counterparts in Suriname, leading to several arrests.

Among those held were Premnauth Persaud, also known as ‘Sinbad,’ and Nakool Manohar, also known as ‘Fyah,’ who were jointly charged with the murder of Mohabir and Sarjoo. Persaud is said to be the ring leader of the gang that carried out the attack.

Also charged is Alexander Denheart, 19, who is accused of the murder of Mohabir.

June 25th was declared by President Granger as a National Day of mourning in memory of the victims. “It is a great massacre, a great tragedy and we have been very successful over the last three years in curbing piracy. So this has come as a great setback and we extend sympathy to the families of the bereaved,” Granger had told reporters on May 3rd as he announced government’s intention to observe public mourning.

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