(Trinidad Newsday) CEDROS fisherman Marvin Farria saw death staring him in the eye last Tuesday, when, he said, the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional opened fire on him and his crew while they were fishing in local waters, near Soledado Rock.
Farria, 32, said he believes God was on his side as heavily armed men, wearing life jackets and camouflage outfits pulled up alongside his pirogue, Mr Antonio, and fired.
He said the bullets hit the engine, doing minimal damage, and he and three others were unharmed. He said by some stroke of luck, his pirogue spun around in a different direction as he tried to elude the Spanish vessel, and he sped off. They gave up their chase, he said.
After that near-death experience, Farria is now calling for protection for him and his colleagues from the Minister of National Security Stuart Young. The traumatised fisherman said the Coast Guard station in Cedros served no real purpose because when he reported the incident, “they told us they did not have any boat right now to follow up”.
He said at the Cedros police station they were told the matter was for the Coast Guard. “So, we have no redress. Armed vessels coming in our waters and shooting up we citizens and nobody doing nothing.”
Farria who has been earning a living on the seas for the past 20 years, since he was a 12-year-old boy, said while he has heard chilling tales from fishermen, it was his first experience.
“This is happening too often. They come in our waters and hold us and when they hold us they call for money. If you don’t have it, they will carry you down and lock you up in Venezuela. If you could pay on the waters, you would get back your boat and engine and whatever else they seize from you.”
Farria recalled around 4.30 pm, on that fateful afternoon, he and his crew were fishing near Trinmar’s Platform 13 when they saw a boat heading directly at them. Thinking it was pirates, he said, “We decided to cut the net and run. We run, run, run, with the vessel giving chase. When we almost reached Bonasse, they started shooting, first shots were fired into the air as they tried to get us to slow down. Then they started shooting as us.
“I told the crew to lie down flat and I end up dancing the boat to dodge bullets.”
He said as the boat pulled up along side his vessel, with a gun aimed at him, “I grabbed and pull the handle hard and I lock away. This caused the boat to spin in the opposite direction and put us ahead of the other vessel. I sped off and after a while heard nothing more as they gave up their chase.”
Farria said he returned to the sea the next day only to retrieve his net, but he is afraid to go out to sea to fish.
Cedros councillor Shankar Teelucksingh said harassment of fishermen in local waters is becoming unbearable and has to stop.
“These men could have been killed. They are now afraid to go out to the sea to ply their trade. Petrotrin, where many of them worked with contractors, is closing down. With no Petrotrin and no fishing, what are they supposed to do. Is there some kind of a plan for the Venezuelans to take over the Soledado field?”
Teelucksingh said in the last week between six to seven men were held by the Venezuelans and each of them had to pay about $15,000 to secure their release.
“Why is the authority turning a blind eye to this situation? Why is the National Security Minister with the 360-degree radar allowing unidentified, armed vessels to come into our waters and harass our citizens.”
Teelucksingh is expected to meet over the weekend with the fisher-folk from Cedros, Fullerton and Icacos to come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with this situation.
“We will decide if we need to retain a lawyer to write, officially, to the Minister of National Security, seeking his protection.”