Gulf of no return

“In here, the trees are mainly mangrove,” Shawn says in one of the last videos of him posted on the Madoo Bird Tours Facebook page.

As he deftly balances on the bow of his tour boat, he tells a group of tourists, “These are called the red mangrove, or the rhizophoras. These trees grow, branches fall, roots come down.” The camera pans to a tangled mass of vegetation, under the late-afternoon sunlight.

Where Shawn is today is a mystery. His wife, Crystal, in June told the press her husband went on a fishing trip in his father’s pirogue with a friend, Vishal Ramlochan, and set sail from Sea Lots, Port-of-Spain, around 5am on May 26.

She said she called her husband’s mobile phone that morning at 8 o’clock and he said they were close to Venezuelan waters but were being surrounded.

“He told me to call every half-hour, but when I called back about 20 minutes later he did not answer, so that leads me to believe that they were kidnapped,” she told the press. “People are calling and saying they have them, but we cannot confirm that because they not allowing us to speak with them. They said pay the money or we will find them dead.” She said Shawn was not around to celebrate his 28th birthday on June 26. The couple have three daughters — ages seven, five and one.

Then, reports surfaced in August stating Venezuela’s Guardia Nacional had killed a group of five suspected pirates.

The group, according Venezuelan media, was aboard a small blue boat, called Cimarron, in waters off Mapire, on Venezuela’s north coast. According to the reports, two of the Venezuelans were carrying AR15 and AK47 rifles. There was the suggestion that the incident somehow related to the disappearance of Madoo and Ramlochan, however the Venezuelan reports did not mention these men by name.

Six months later, nobody seems to know what happened to the two men. Shawn’s wife said she has heard nothing.

Minister of National Security Major General Edmund Dillon – who was among a delegation which met with Venezuelan government officials in Caracas on Monday to discuss border security — had no word.

The Venezuelan Embassy did not respond to queries last week.

The case is just one of many which has deepened concern over security on the border between Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela in light of an upsurge in reports of attacks in the Gulf of Paria.

The increasing prevalence of incidents has led some to question whether a piracy industry is developing. Minister of National Security Dillon, and his predecessor, Gary Griffith, though, do not believe such is the case.

“And I can’t say there is a piracy industry developing without evidence,” Dillon said last week. Griffith concurred.

“Most or even all of these recent incidents can be the result of one specific group o f felons, which then cannot make it a pirate industry,” he said. Be that as it may, the cases of attacks on the gulf are increasing.

Last month, two fishermen were attacked in broad daylight in the waters of the Gulf of Paria by a group of Spanish-speaking men carrying firearms. That incident followed the murders of fishermen Christian Steve Hernandez, 19, in a violent attack involving Spanish- speaking pirates on September 28; and Marcus Haniff, 23, in a similar attack on September 19.

“It is a cause for concern,” the Minister of National Security said.

“We have to put some deterrent measures in place and we have to treat with it, especially on the maritime side.” Dillon said while there has been dialogue between agencies on both sides of the border and while in the past specific avenues of cooperation were created to coordinate security patrols, these fell down in recent times.

“It has fallen down,” the Minister told Sunday Newsday. “The fact is the contacts and cooperation was not happening as it is supposed to be happening. Now we want to ensure the cooperation and collaboration will take place.

We will continue to meet and talk.” Dillon said the recent acquisition of more naval assets — such as a the TTS Nelson II, an 80m-long operational ship commissioned in China — will go some way to bolstering existing coverage. Griffith, though, thinks more is needed, including an upgrade of radar tracking, and acquisition of more interceptors, drones and helicopters. On Friday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced several initiatives coming out of last week’s meetings.

“Both sides agreed to negotiate an overarching Memorandum of Understanding on security cooperation to fight against the illegal trafficking of humans, drugs and firearms to enhance security cooperation between the pertinent authorities of both countries and build capacity in technology-driven approaches as well as in the Spanish language,” the Ministry said. “The Coast Guard commanders will convene a technical meeting in Trinidad and Tobago during the first quarter of the year 2016, in order to coordinate and to plan the implementation of the VENTRI naval exercise to fight against transnational organised crime.” Dillon said, “What you would see from now on is a better-coordinated presence between both the Guardia Nacional and the Coast Guard in the Gulf of Paria in terms of maritime presence and in terms of points of contact between both security entities.

There will be high level contact.” Amid turbulent economic and political times in Venezuela — which has seen shortages of basic items in that country hit its citizens hard — Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro are expected to have a bi-lateral summit in Caracas in coming weeks. The issue of security in the Gulf is likely to be on the agenda.

The issue, some say, is not just one of politics and national security, there are economic fac-


"Gulf of no return"

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