A Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into a deadly attack on Guyanese fishermen off the coast of Suriname back in April 2018 that saw about 18 persons killed, with a number of them still missing, has found it to have originated from a turf war.
Minister of State, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams presents a copy of the report to Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan as Dr. Rishi Thakur looks on.
The report has pointed, also, to too many boats in the Corentyne fishing area and recommended more training for boat operators.
The attacks had been described by President David Granger as a massacre. Authorities in both countries collaborated to investigate the shocking case which left several families without their breadwinners.
Several persons were charged in Suriname. Seven pirates were jailed for 35 years late last year.
In Guyana, two accused, Nakool “Fyah” Manohar and Premnauth “Sinbad” Persaud, were committed to stand trial in the High Court.
Yesterday, Minister of State, Mrs. Dawn Hastings-Williams, received the ‘Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2018 Piracy Attacks and the Death of Guyanese Fishermen off the Coast of Suriname’.
The CoI was conducted by Dr. Rishi Thakur.
A copy of the report was also handed over to Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan.
Dr. Thakur said during the inquiry, it was determined by extended findings that the piracy was organised, planned, systemic and executed open confrontation that has its origins in a turf war over fishing grounds.
“We were able to establish that in no uncertain terms,” he said.
Dr. Thakur also noted that during the inquiry, it was discovered that while there were 350 cabin cruisers or fishing vessels in the Corentyne, there is not a single registered crew or trained and licensed captain.
Among the recommendations was for the Chief Co-operative Officer to address the congestion and excessive number of fishing boats and the traffic in that area since it is seen as a source of tension among fishermen.
The report called for an institution of fishing standards in the area with training and licensing of captains and fishing crews; a vessel monitoring system in accordance with the Fisheries Act and the transformation of the Inter-Agency Piracy Task Force into a permanent statutory body.
According to Dr. Thakur, the Commission divided the recommendations into two categories: what can and should be done immediately without prohibitive costs and those that can be done through long term planning and design.
The CoI was commissioned by President David Granger in June 2019. He had described the attack on the fishermen as a “massacre” and declared June 25, 2018 a National Day Of Mourning in their honour.
Minister Hastings-Williams said that the Commission was constituted to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the piracy attacks, which included violent criminal acts, hijacking of Guyanese-owned fishing vessels and the resultant deaths of Guyanese nationals.
She noted that the Head of the COI, Dr. Thakur, was mandated by the President to investigate, determine and make findings of fact on all matters in relation to the piracy attacks; determine the number and the identities of the persons killed off of the Atlantic Coast of the Republic of Suriname, on or about April 28, 2018; determine the identities of the perpetrators and motives behind such violations, with a view of ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.
He was also tasked with recommending actions to be taken against all persons and/or organisations that are deemed responsible for the deaths of those persons based on the determination of the findings; determine the role of the state agencies of Guyana in the security of fishermen in the area and report on a plan of action to guide initiatives to be undertaken both at sea and onshore to prevent and counter piracy and related activities, by addressing the root causes of this phenomenon.
“I know that many of us have waited anxiously for this day, and I am glad that we are finally concluding this exercise, so that we can move forward, address the important issues and tasks that are required, bring an end to this scourge that has plagued mainly Region Six and bring closure to a very tragic incident,” she said.
She reminded that the President in his address at the opening ceremony for the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) workshop for judges and prosecutors, in May 2018 said, “We are deeply grieved by the tragedy that occurred at sea, involving some of our citizens. It is a great massacre, a great tragedy”.
The Minister of State said the Government is looking forward to principally executing the plan of action as recommended in the report, to guide initiatives to prevent and counter piracy and its related activities.
“I extend sympathy to the bereaved families. We have been very successful over the last couple of years, since this Government took office in curbing piracy.
“On behalf of the Government, I extend my sincerest gratitude to Dr. Thakur and his team for accepting this task and mandate and completing this report in a timely manner. I thank you for your diligence and commitment.
“I look forward to reading this report and wish to assure the nation, that this report in its entirety will be shared with my fellow Cabinet members for our deliberation,” she noted.
In November, in Suriname, seven pirates were handed heavy prison sentence of 35 years each for their role.
Chris Parsram, Rameshwar Roopnarine, Madre Kishore, David Williams, Ramdeo Persaud, Ray Torres and Ganesh Beharry, all Guyanese, were the ones jailed.
Three others, Sureshdien N., Premnath P. and Doodnath M. were acquitted due to lack of evidence. The Magistrate, Marie Mettendaf, forfeited boats, shotguns and cutlasses.
Evidence presented to the court showed that 10 of the suspects were present when the act was carried out on April 27, 2018 while two were not.
Manohar was said to be the mastermind behind the attack in retaliation for his brother’s death.
A third suspect, Alexander Denheart, still has his Preliminary Inquiry ongoing in the Magistrate’s court in Guyana.
According to the facts of the case, four boats with 20 crewmembers were attacked by sea pirates in April 2018 in Surinamese waters in the vicinity of the Wia Wia bank. Only four of the crew members, including a captain of one of the boats, managed to make it to shore. The rest are believed to have perished.
The attack was in retaliation by pirates from Guyana for the shooting death of their leader, a Guyanese pirate called “Paddy” a few weeks before the attacks last year April.
The pirates blamed the fishermen. The pirate leader was reportedly shot dead during an attack on fishing vessels. The fishermen were thrown overboard or had to jump into the water themselves.
One of the crew members could not swim and he disappeared. Another person’s hands were tied, and a car battery was attached to his feet, after which he was thrown overboard.
Still missing are Tilaknauth Mohabir, 50, also known as ‘Kai’; Dinesh ‘Vickey’ Persaud, Ralph Anthony Couchman called ‘Burnham’, 19; Ramesh Sancharra, 48; Glenroy Jones, 21; Ramnarine Singh; Bharat Heeralall also known as “Record”, 49; Lalta Persaud known as “Paddock”, 42; Mahesh Sarjoo, 35; Rajkumar Bissessar; Looknarine Persaud; and Lokesh Decouite, 50.
Four bodies were found.
The attacks had galvanised the authorities in Guyana and Suriname with visits made by investigators and increased cooperation.
Under the Dutch system, which Suriname operates, there are very little opportunities for the convicts to be paraded in public and for photographs as is the case in other jurisdictions