(Trinidad Guardian) Two Russian cargo aeroplanes, one of which arrived at the Piarco International Airport on Thursday and the other here for almost a month, have raised concerns among immigration and airport officials.
The Russian-manufactured aircraft Ilyushin arrived yesterday morning and at least three people, including an official at the airport, posted a video of the cargo plane’s arrival on Facebook.
A US Airforce military plane also arrived on Thursday, according to pictures posted. But an official from the Public Affairs section of the US Embassy told Guardian Media “it was a normal monthly delivery of supplies and that plane had already left.” The official said it was merely coincidental that the US plane arrived almost around the same time as the Russian Ilyushin.
A second Russian plane owned by Volga-Dnepr Cargo Airlines has been in the country for almost a month, immigration officials told Guardian Media, raising concerns amongst airport officials due to the continuing economic and political tension in neighbouring Venezuela.
“I just find it highly unusual for an aeroplane to remain so long at the airport,” one immigration official said speaking on the condition of strict anonymity.
This Volga Dnepr cargo plane is being housed in a hangar in the old part of the airport along with the Ilyushin cargo plane, according to airport sources.
Making reference to the Ilyushin plane, one airport source said, “That aircraft is used for cargo and transportation of heavy equipment. Having regard to the recent concerns of the Prime Minister’s interests with Venezuela, I must say it had me concerned what those aircraft are doing here.”
According to a confidential document addressed to the Chief Immigration Officer, entitled: “Observation Report,” which Guardian Media obtained, the Volga Dnepr cargo plane arrived in Trinidad on February 5.
One of the crew members, Mikhail Miniakov, identified as a pilot who could speak English, told authorities that they stopped off in “Trinidad for a fuel stop and crew rest and were awaiting instructions from their employers in Russia as to their next destination.” Miniakov indicated that they had just arrived from French Guiana where they had spent two days.
Apart from Miniakov, Dmitry Ageev was listed as a pilot, along with Viacheslav Lvov as a navigator and five engineers – Pavel Popovich, Valery Sotnikov, Nikolai Kosovo, Alexander Erofeev and Dmitri Losenko.
Miniakov told authorities “after dropping off cargo which they had picked up in Italy, they transported containers to French Guiana but could give no information as to what they containers contained.”
In the document, immigration authorities confirmed that this particular cargo plane had visited in May 2015 and August 2017 and Special Branch police officers also interviewed Miniakov and perused the passports of all the crew members.
The document indicated the crew had been granted an extension to stay in Trinidad until February 12 and Guardian Media understands that they were granted a further extension. The crew is reportedly staying at the Marriot Hotel in Port-of-Spain.
Guardian Media sent questions via email to Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT) corporate communications manager Zola Joseph yesterday inquiring about the presence of the Russian planes and their purpose in Trinidad. However, Joseph said the AATT would respond today.
Civil Aviation Authority director general Francis Regis meanwhile said he could not shed any light on why the Russian planes were in Trinidad.
Guardian Media also sent a question to Minister of National Security Stuart Young, asking him if he had been aware of the planes being in Trinidad and why one of the planes were here for such a lengthy period. However, Young failed to respond to the question.