No update on release of Guyanese fishermen; relief still being finalised

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By Kurt Campbell

Almost two weeks after being detained in neighbouring Venezuela on a false claim that they were fishing in that country’s maritime space and despite mounting international pressure, there is still no clear indication when the 12 detained Guyanese fishermen and their two registered vessels will be released.

The men remain detained indefinitely and with food supplies running low, efforts are being made to get cash to them so that they can purchase food as needed. But the situation has now become a little complicated, according to the boat owner, Kumar Lalbachan.

Lalbachan told the News Room on Tuesday that while the fishermen remain at Port Güiria where they were initially taken, they were moved on Monday to a more guarded area in close proximity to where the Venezuelan marine soldiers and their boats are.

This he described as “a more stressful area.” He said the move has hampered communication with the Guyanese men who have now lost contact with a Venezuelan local who was translating for them and also helping to coordinate relief efforts.

“This is a more stressful area because they have to give account every hour when somebody check on them and there is nobody to interpret for them; the guy that use to help them interpret, they stop him,” Lalbachan told the News Room.

He said the 12-member crew is running low on food items and they will need “ration” in the next two days.

“We made contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they will make arrangements to see what will do, but I haven’t received any word as yet,” the boat owner added.

Lalbachan said he last spoke to the crew on Monday. “Every day I does call them. They alright and so. Nobody not molesting them and ill-treating them,” he assured.

The government last addressed the matter at the weekend with President Irfaan Ali reiterating calls for an end to Venezuela’s aggression and for the men to be released along with their vessels.  Information out of Venezuela suggests that the men could be detained for well over a month as that country conducts its own investigation.

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister had committed to the men’s early release but that was a week ago. While Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Hugh Todd could not be reached for comment, Advisor on Borders, Carl Greenidge told the News Room Tuesday there has been no update on the release of the men.

Family members are growing increasingly worried about the men being the sole breadwinner for their families. Their wives and children have repeatedly urged their safe release.

Just over a week after Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro issued the decree and laid claim to the Essequibo on January 7, 2020, Guyana received distressing reports that a Venezuelan naval vessel seized two Guyanese fishing vessels and detained its 12-member crew.

Guyana sprang into action issuing a formal protest against the illegal act with growing support from the international community calling for the release and return of the vessels and crew.

Guyana continues to maintain that the men were arrested and detained while fishing in waters well within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and that the borders between the two countries were settled by an 1899 Arbitral Awards.

Venezuela’s rejection of the award has led to Guyana seeking a judicial settlement to the matter which is currently before the International Court of Justice.

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