Probe into cocaine ship likely …suspected transfer vessel held by local agents raises concerns
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Some of the cocaine seized on the vessel
Some of the cocaine seized on the vessel

PRIOR to the massive high seas drug bust, which ensnared four Guyanese nationals and netted cocaine worth US$71.7M,70 nautical miles north of Suriname in international waters, there was another vessel which was being tracked by Guyana’s drug enforcement authorities. 

Top sources told the Guyana Chronicle that the vessel was initially spotted in Guyana’s waters off the Corentyne Coast,moving north and was being tracked by the local authorities and when it was in the vicinity of Shell Beach it was intercepted and brought into the Waini River and searched. Narcotics were not found but a crew comprising of one Guyanese national and five Spanish speaking foreign nationals were on board and the vessel was subsequently released.

The release of this suspected cocaine ship is now under scrutiny as it is believed that this vessel had transferred the large cocaine shipment to the mother vessel which was subsequently seized by the US authorities and found to be carrying over four tonnes of cocaine with an estimated street value of US$71.7M.

Sources said that in spite of efforts by the Guyanese authorities, the cocaine mother ship – Lady Michelle – eluded them but ended up in the US dragnet in international waters off Suriname. While it is believed that the Guyanese authorities exercised vigilance after being alerted to the secondary vessel and brought it in, questions are being asked about the larger vessel which seemed to not have been noticed by the local authorities.

How this cocaine mothership eluded the Guyanese authorities is the subject of controversy and likely to lead to an investigation. The Head of CANU, James Singh, has been sent on leave pending inquiry. Since assuming office, the Coalition Government has heightened and intensified efforts to counter narcotics trafficking on land, by air and at sea.

Coastal aerial surveillance and mounted branch border patrols have been reactivated and are done on a regular and continuing basis. The MV Tamakay, a floating police station, is now permanently stationed at the mouth of the Waini River. It was in the Waini River some years ago that a suspected cocaine semi-submersible was uncovered. In 2016,an abandoned aircraft suspected of transporting narcotics was uncovered in the Rupununi village of Yupukari.

Meanwhile, Singh,who was heading the CANU at the time of the bust, told the Guyana Chronicle that no record exists showing that the boat had left Guyana. When questioned about Guyana’s involvement or collaboration in making the bust possible, James revealed that, “there is not official record to show that the boat had been in Guyana since 2015.”

He told this newspaper that since four Guyanese are involved, investigations are ongoing internally to see “whether there are further links (in Guyana), if any.”

Singh’s instructions to proceed on annual leave comes just a day after four Guyanese,now identified as Mark Williams, Neville Jeffrey, Richard La Cruz and the captain Mohammed Nazim Hosein,were intercepted aboard a fishing vessel off the Surinamese coast. They have all been charged.

When a comment was sought from the American Embassy on the collaboration between local agents and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), confirmation was given that the Guyana arm of the agency was actively involved in the investigation. This newspaper was told also that, “The US Government regularly works with all relevant entities within Guyana to together combat the scourge of narco-trafficking.”

The Embassy said too that no comments could be given about the investigation, but confirmed Guyanese involvement and a large quantity of cocaine being confiscated. The Embassy said that since the DEA opened a Guyana office, “cooperation with the Guyanese authorities has been excellent.”

Singh told this newspaper,however, that from the Guyana end, investigations are continuing to make the local connection. In relation to the exchange of information, he said too that work with the DEA is ongoing. The cocaine was discovered in a 70-foot long fishing vessel that was stopped and searched by authorities during a joint patrol by the crews of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Joseph Napier and the coast guard of Trinidad and Tobago.

The crew of the Napier, which is based in Port Canaveral, Florida, towed the detained boat to St. Vincent and the four Guyanese were taken to the U.S. Virgin Islands to face criminal charges, while the cocaine was taken to San Juan in Puerto Rico. Guyanese authorities say that the drug boat is a St Vincent vessel. Authorities say this latest cocaine bust has been the largest since 1999.

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