Piracy rocking small-fishing industry
• Frustrated owners contemplating closure of operations
By Dale Andrews
Kaieteur News
February 22, 2007

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Small fishermen in the Essequibo , reeling from waves of attacks by pirates (sea thieves) are fearful that they may have to give up on their accustomed livelihood and bring a halt to operations in the absence of proper security at high sea.

So severe is the toll of the constant plundering that fishing boat operators are now finding it difficult to secure employees for their operations.

Within the past two weeks, sea bandits have wreaked havoc in the Pomeroon and Waini areas, attacking boat crews, taking their engines and supplies and in some cases leaving them to drift in the ocean without any guarantee of being rescued.

Many of those who were victims of the brazen attacks are now refusing to go back to sea, leaving boat owners with millions of dollars in overhead expenses.

The owners argue that since the small-fishing industry contributes to the national economy by way of foreign exchange earnings, coupled with providing cheap fish to the local population, government should place more emphasis on securing their source of revenue.

They claimed that they have held countless discussions with officials from the Ministries of Agriculture and Home Affairs but nothing tangible has been done as yet to allay their concerns.

It is believed that the perpetrators are well organised and have ready markets for their loot. Some also believe that the bandits may have connections in neighbouring Venezuela where their booty is sold.

One fishing boat owner reported that following several attacks, one in which an entire boat was stolen, police searched at least 15 islands in the Essequibo River and came up empty-handed.

“I don't know how the small man gon mek out. Sea nah gat no way fuh yuh run from bandits and we nah gat gun like police,” another owner told this newspaper during a telephone interview.

They explained that it usually costs about $150,000 for every trip a vessel makes and coupled with losing their engines, the losses are becoming unbearable.

Some of them claimed that they have huge mortgages and installments to pay. “Look… is IPED I going now fuh beg dem fuh relief,” a frustrated owner indicated.

“Imagine de region nah gat boat; de police boat nah gat engine nor gasoline, wha nex' we gun do.”

As recent as yesterday another crew reported that they were attacked at sea and based on the description they provided it is widely believed that the same gang of thieves is responsible for all the recent attacks.

The fishermen believe that should the situation continue without the security forces showing significant response, ‘copycats' may feel that the business of attacking fishing boats is an easy way of making money and matters could spiral totally out of control.

Two weeks ago, fishermen from the East Coast of Demerara and Berbice met with Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee to seek ways of arresting the problem.

A spokesman from the Ministry of Agriculture told this newspaper that following meetings with the Trawler Owners' Association, a vessel was acquired and this will be handed over to the police for the purpose of patrolling. However, there are still some finishing touches to be applied to make the vessel worthy for the intended purpose.

Head of the Essequibo Fishermens' Co-op Society, Hardat Narine, told this newspaper that the small-fishing industry is suffering a lot, consequently affecting the livelihood of many.

“Because you have to go out far, you are at the mercy of the bandits. To take the engines is one thing but it could cost lives,” Narine told Kaieteur News.

He said that he has met with several officials but nothing concrete has been achieved.

According to Narine, a suggestion was made to the administration for them to raise the duty free concessions from a 2 hp outboard engine to 48 hp.

• “Small fishermen are being looked upon as lower class people. This industry needs help,” Narine said.