Pirates of the Corentyne
January 10, 2007
Will Corentyne's coastal and riverine fishermen ever be safe from the scourge of piracy or should they accept it as a permanent occupational hazard?
Artisanal fishermen for years have complained bitterly and frequently to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Home Affairs about their plight. They have also besought the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force to provide better protection and, particularly, to help them to recover their engines, nets and other personal property. Recently, eighteen more of them were robbed and terrorised by masked pirates offshore Albion, Bush Lot and Number 43 Villages.
Corentyne fishermen are at their wits' end. Over 200 of them staged a protest last year to call attention to their plight when some alleged pirates were arraigned at the Springlands Magistrate's Court. Although occasionally pirates are convicted and some victims succeed in retrieving bits of their stolen gear, the problem of protection persists.
A large delegation of aggrieved fishermen met Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee last November to seek some relief from the spate of piracy attacks. Predictably, Mr Rohee responded that "steps were being taken to remedy the situation" and noted that "there is a police presence in the Corentyne fishing zone and that the army would conduct patrols in the river."
It would have been a remarkable departure from business as usual if, indeed, the Administration actually had a realistic plan "to remedy the situation." Over the past decade or so, little has been done to counter the raft of well-known water-borne crimes in the Corentyne - contraband trade; backtracking; drug-smuggling; gun-running and piracy - because the Police Force and the Defence Force Coast Guard simply do not possess sufficient resources to conduct continuous patrols. In the circumstances, the Minister's stale response is just not convincing.
Former Chairman of the East Berbice-Corentyne Region Kumkarran Ramdass once suggested issuing gun licences to the fishermen so they can defend themselves but Commander of the Police 'B' Division Clinton Conway correctly and quickly responded that the way to deal with piracy was to augment the police maritime capability not to increase the number of guns.
The reality is that, although the police are deployed in all six coastal regions, the force has no substantial marine establishment with sufficient vessels and skilled personnel to conduct maritime patrols by day and night along the coastland and in the estuaries of the numerous creeks and rivers. There is also no system by which fishermen in distress, either as a result of attack or some other problem, could make radio contact with the police stations, all of which are within short distances from the coast, or even with their fish ports - for example, the Upper Corentyne Fisherman's Co-op Society at Number 79 Village or the Rosignol Fisherman's Co-op Society.
Former GDF Second-in-Command Colonel Chabilall Ramsarup had admitted since March 2005 that the Coast Guard's resources were "stretched" and it "did not have radar equipment with which to monitor what happened at sea." The Coast Guard does have a base at Benab (Number 63) but patrols, utilising their small motor life boats, have neither the range nor endurance to provide the continuous protection that the situation warrants.
It is high time for the Administration to stop talking about taking steps and to start taking action by providing the GPF and GDF with real resources - radar equipment, vessels, personnel - to counter coastal piracy and to protect these vulnerable people.