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Two armed pirates last Sunday night attacked and robbed nine fishing boats in the Berbice River seizing in the process six engines and nine fuel tanks valued in excess of $2.5 million. Owners of five of the boats live in the Sheet Anchor, East Canje area while four hail from New Amsterdam and its environs.
Recounting the ordeal which began at around 10 on a dark, moonless night, the five fishermen who had left their homes at around 5 pm said they were attacked in succession. The boats were returning from a fishing expedition in the Berbice River when the drama began to unfold. Jagroop Ramudit of Sheet Anchor Village told Stabroek News he and an employee were about to enter the mouth of the Canje River after fishing some two miles down the Berbice River at a place called Plantation Seawell or Island Head when a speedboat approached and told them to turn off their 15 horsepower Johnson engine. "One of the two men who were masked fired a shot in the air and I jumped overboard, quickly swam to the nearest shore and hid among the roots of a mangrove tree." Ramudit recalled that the pirates then instructed his employee to remove the engine and fuel tank from his boat and place it in theirs. Despite the darkness, Ramudit said he was able to recognise that the boat used by the pirates was about 15 feet in length. "It was painted in red, white and blue and was propelled by a 40 horsepower engine." The cost of his engine, he said, was $450,000.
Minutes after robbing Ramudit's boats the two pirates proceeded to relieve Mangal Persaud of a 15 horsepower Johnson engine and a fuel tank in similar fashion. "They approached my boat flashing a light and fired a shot in the air as they approached. They then told me to hand over my engine and tank which I did since I was very scared," he told Stabroek News. Joshua Rangasammy, whose boat was equipped with a 10 horsepower Mariner engine valued at $265,000 was the next to be relieved at gunpoint of its engine and fuel tank. "I was approaching the mouth of the Canje River when I saw the two boats which had been robbed earlier on the bank of the river. The next thing I heard was a gunshot and a boat pulled up alongside my boat and told me to hand over my engine and fuel tank."
The fisherman said he could do nothing else but comply. "Before leaving they asked me where were the other boats with the new engines and I told them they were coming behind." The pirates, he recalled, had told him that he would be shot if he caused any damage to the engines during the transfer from one boat to another.
The next boat to be attacked and robbed was that of Rudolph Kirton of Angoy's Avenue, New Amsterdam. Bolanauth Persaud who was some distance behind was attacked, as he was about to enter the mouth of the Canje River. "The pirates fired a shot in the air and told me to come out from the corner of the river. I however continued to drive along the banks of the river before I stopped my boat and jumped into a clump of bushes along the river bank where I hid." The pirates, he recalled, jumped into his boat and took away his 25 horsepower Yamaha engine valued at $450,000 and his fuel tank.
Ramkumar Mattadin told this newspaper that he was in the vicinity of a place called Green Grass about two miles from the confluence of the Berbice and Canje Rivers on his way home when he saw three boats tied together to a fishing pen. "There were three fishermen in the three boats but the boats had only been robbed of their fuel tanks and not their engines." He speculated that the engines were not stolen because they were old. "When I asked what was the matter they said look in front. I drove for another 100 yards and saw a light flashing in the dark. The next thing I heard was a gunshot and I threw myself on the floor of the boat. However my employee jumped overboard in fear but the pirates ordered him to re-enter the boat and to lie face down."
The men, he said, proceeded to relieve them of their 15 horsepower Mariner engine valued at $290,000 and a fuel tank. "They then began beating my employee with a paddle and only stopped when the paddle broke." According to the Sheet Anchor fisherman, the two pirates then drove away but not before threatening to shoot them if they attempted to move from the floor of the boat.
For Mangal Persaud it was the third time that he had been attacked and robbed by pirates in the river dating back to the early 1990s. Attempts by the fishermen to contact the Coast Guard from the New Amsterdam Stelling were unsuccessful since employees there said they were unaware of the contact telephone number.
The police were subsequently contacted and with the assistance of a private boat owner a search was conducted along the West Berbice coastline, but there were no signs of the pirates. "B" Division Commander, Assistant Commissioner of Police Paul Slowe told this newspaper that the police were continuing their investigations into the attack.
According to the fishermen, a Rural Constable had given a statement to the police at Blairmont in relation to a suspect who lives at Rosignol with whom he had a brief encounter. That statement they say has however been deemed false by one investigating rank.
On Wednesday the fishermen met Minister of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock, Satyadeow Sawh who promised to assist them with three used engines. He has also promised to explore the possibility of them securing loans from commercial banks to purchase new engines. Meanwhile, the affected fishermen are offering a reward of $100,000 for information that may lead to the recovery of their engines.
The Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard, which recently secured four patrol boats from the US and a refurbished minesweeper from the United Kingdom was meant to step up patrols along the coast and in riverine areas to halt this type of attack.