— being detained for 45 days pending an investigation
–Venezuela commits to their ‘early release’
By Navendra Seoraj
MANEUVERING “rough tides” is second nature for fishermen, but a 12-member Guyanese crew being held captive in Venezuela, is possibly in for the challenge of their lives, as they have been charged and imprisoned, pending a 45-day investigation.
The fishermen, who were operating their trade along the Waini River in two groups of six on the Lady Nayera and Sea Wolf vessels, were apprehended by Venezuelan naval troops.
This act of ‘intrusion’ by Venezuela was condemned by local authorities, which have substantiated claims that both vessels, which were operating off the coast of the Waini Point, within Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), were intercepted by Venezuelan naval vessel, “Commandante Hugo Chavez GC 24”, on Thursday, January 21, 2021.
According to information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Captain Richard Ramnarine, of the Lady Nayera, and Captain Toney Garraway, of the Sea Wolf, after being apprehended in the Waini area, were instructed to chart a course to Port Güiria in Venezuela, where both vessels, which are registered in Essequibo, and the 12-member crew, who hail from Essequibo, have been detained.
The Guyana Chronicle was informed on Sunday that the crew members of the Sea Wolf included Garraway, Errol Gardener, Orland Roberts, Christopher Shaw, Shirvin Oneil and Randy Henry while the crew members aboard the Lady Nayera were Ramnarine, Ramlakan Kamal, Nick Raghubar, Javin Boston, Michael Domingo and Joel Joseph.
Owner of the Sea Wolf, Kumar Lalbachan, when contacted by the Guyana Chronicle on Monday evening, said he managed to make contact with members of his crew, but the news he received left him bewildered.
“We received word from them, but they said that they [Venezuelan authorities] bring them to the court and they have a 45-day investigation,” Lalbachan said.
Let alone being told they will be held for 45 days, Lalbachan, who was evidently taken aback, said his crew is being detained on their boats. It remains unclear at this time whether they will have to spend the entire, imposed 45 days on the boat.
Local authorities are yet to substantiate this information, but Lalbachan told this publication that he has been serving as a direct source of communication between the fishermen and the local officials.
TRYING THEIR BEST
“They [local authorities] are trying their best to be honest… they are working hard to get this resolved,” the boat owner said.
Early on Monday, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd, met with Lalbachan and the other boat owner, during which he conveyed the Government’s commitment towards lobbying for the release of the crew and vessels.
The Foreign Minister also provided the owners with an update on the Government’s efforts including the issuance of a statement condemning the recent actions of Venezuela and the transmission of a “note verbale” in protest of the Venezuelan navy’s actions.
“We are doing all within our power to reunite the crew members with their families and help you to continue with your business,” the minister stated.
The Foreign Minister pledged to remain in contact with the owners and share updates as they occur.
The Government of Guyana considers the “abduction” of Guyanese fishermen a wanton show of aggression by the Venezuelan armed forces against Guyana and Guyanese citizens.
“This Venezuelan action amounts to an interference with the sovereign rights of Guyana in its EEZ, contrary to international law,” the Foreign Affairs Ministry said.
Minister Todd called in the Chargé d’ Affaires of the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Moses Chavez, early Monday, to transfer the protest note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guyana to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.
The protest note firmly condemns the illegal detention of the captains and crew of the Guyanese registered fishing vessels, the Lady Nayera and the Sea Wolf, and calls for their immediate release.
Minister Todd used the opportunity to voice his concerns on the matter, and noted that the action coming out of Caracas is distasteful. The minister further added that based on latitude and longitude, the two vessels were well within Guyana’s territory.
The minister highlighted the regional zone of peace and called for Venezuela to operate in a manner consistent with international rule of law.
This position was also relayed by Minister Todd to Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Jorge Arreaza, during a virtual meeting on Monday. The discussion was described as cordial.
According to a press statement from Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, both ministers exchanged views within the context of the detention of the vessels and crew.
The Venezuelan Foreign Minister assured that the crew members were being treated with utmost respect for their human rights. At the request of Foreign Minister Todd, Minister Arreaza undertook to pursue their early release.
Both foreign affairs ministers agreed to the importance of mutual respect in relations between the two countries.
Each family member of detained fishermen, when contacted by this publication, said they are eagerly awaiting the return of their relatives, because, in some cases, they are the sole breadwinner of the house. The Government of Guyana has demanded the immediate release of the crew and vessels.
It further exhorts the Government of Venezuela, and its agents, to behave in a manner consistent with international law, and good neighbourly relations. The international community, the Government of Guyana said, will be kept informed of all actions undertaken by Venezuela to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Guyana.
The Commonwealth, CARICOM, United States of America and Canada have all signalled their full support for Guyana in this ongoing border controversy which is before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Guyana is seeking to obtain a final and binding judgement that the 1899 Arbitral Award, which established the location of the land boundary between the then British Guiana and Venezuela, remains valid, and that the Essequibo region belongs to Guyana, and not Venezuela.
Most recently, the ICJ, on December 18, 2020, ruled that it has jurisdiction to hear the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy case. It was reported that Guyana is confident that the international court will resolve the issue in its favour, and that this will also settle the issue of maritime rights in the adjacent sea and seabed. But, under international law, this is now for the ICJ to decide.