Russian cargo planes cause stir at Trinidad airport

A picture of the Russian cargo plane IIyuhsin arriving at the Piarco International Airport on Thursday. A US Air Force plane also arrived on the same day but has since left.

(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.

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