The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the April 2018 piracy attack in Suriname in which 25 Guyanese fishermen were savagely beaten, chopped, burnt and then dumped overboard, has found that it resulted from a turf war over fishing grounds.
The CoI has made a string of recommendations to regulate fishing on the high seas.
It was a year after the fishermen were killed near the popular fishing area Double High Bush off the north coast of Suriname that President David Granger had launched a Commission of Inquiry (COI).
The Inquiry was led by Dr Rishee Thakur, Government and International Affairs lecturer at the University of Guyana, Tain Campus in Corentyne Berbice.
At a briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency on Friday, Dr Thakur revealed that the Inquiry found that they were five fishing boats involved in the attack.
A complete biography of the fishermen was compiled including those who died, who survived and those who still remain missing, Dr Thakur said.
He explained that records show that they were actually two attacks on 27-28 April 2018 and May 1, 2018.
“It was determined on the basis of extensive findings that the piracy was organized, planned and systemic in its execution – an open confrontation that has it origin in a turf war over fishing grounds,” Dr Thakur said.
Dr Thakur highlighted that just like most organisations in the country; the fishing industry is also incapable of enforcing regulatory measures.
“Indicative of what is at issue, it is estimated that there are now some 350 cabin cruisers or artisanal fishing boats along the Corentyne Coast, New Amsterdam to Crabwood Creek – not a single one with a trained or licensed captain or a verified crew list, while each is a potential pirate,” Dr Thakur said.
Further, Dr Thakur said while the payment is attractive in fishing, “it is also severely constrained by the varied commitments it must meet, including a drug problem.”
Dr Thakur said it is estimated that between 60-70 percent of fishermen at the No.66 Fish Co-op are regular users of hard drugs. He said the responsibility of a family waiting and the anxiety of coming back with a poor catch only adds to the anxiety.
In Suriname seven of the twelve suspects of the first case against pirates were handed sentences of 35 years each, two were handed sentences of 10 and 5 years each, while a third was acquitted.
In Guyana two of the three cases have been sent to the High Court while a third is awaiting preliminary hearings.
The CoI recommends that the present language that defines the Guyana/Suriname border needs to be upgraded.
It also recommended that the the excessive congestion of fishing boats as well as the number that ply the Corentyne area be addressed. Dr Thakur said this is seen as the significant source of friction among fishermen.
There should be an institution of fishing standards, registered fish crews, training and licensing of captains, the CoI also recommended.
The report stated that the International Labour Organistion’s (ILO) work in fishing convention 188 and accompanying recommendation 199 should be immediately recognized. The ILO aims to ensure that all fishers have decent conditions of work on board fishing vessels which meet minimum requirements.
A vessel monitoring system (VMS) as recommended by the Fisheries Act 71:08 should be instituted and finally, it was recommended, and the Inter-Agency Piracy Task Force should be transformed into a permanent statutory body.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Dawn Hastings-Williams said she is glad that the CoI has been finally completed and is looking forward the executing the recommendations made.
“So that we can move forward, address the important issues and tasks required, bring an end to this scourge that has plagued mainly Region 6 and bring closure to a very tragic incident,” the Minister said.