Just two weeks after a dozen people died while trying to flee Venezuela for T&T in a pirogue, the crew and passengers of another vessel coming from Venezuela are currently in a standoff with the T&T Coast Guard, fearing they may suffer the same fate.
Miguel Costa, who is aboard the pirogue Kuvanakan, left the port of Guiria, Venezuela, around mid-morning with 13 crew members and passengers, including children, aboard. They were on their way to Chaguaramas. But on reaching approximately 200 metres off the coast of Chacachacare Island, they were stopped by the Coast Guard.
According to Costa, the Coast Guardsmen checked their immigration documents and found that everything was in order. However, the Kuvanakan captain was told that the pirogue was not being allowed to enter T&T, under instructions from the Ministry of National Security.
While the passengers were disappointed at being denied entry into T&T, they were afraid because the pirogue’s engine was in need of repairs.
“We’re in a boat but the Coast Guard asked us to go back because they do not want us to enter. They’re just 200 metres away from us right now and they are pushing us to go back to Venezuela. We are already here, we are close to Trinidad but the Coast Guard is pushing really hard to for us to go back home. We insist that our engines do not work but they don’t care about it,” Costa said via WhatsApp.
His mobile phone's battery was dying while he was sitting in the open sea under scorching weather.
While the purpose of the passengers' attempted visit was unknown, Costa was expected to board a flight at the Piarco International Airport at 3.30 pm en route to Florida, USA.
Julio Acosta, another Venezuelan living in the USA, told Guardian Media he was waiting for Costa’s arrival in Miami. Acosta is expected to move to the US. Although Costa said he can purchase another plane ticket, he and his friend are worried they won’t make it across the Bocas because of the pirogue’s engine.
“The vessel has mechanical problems. Pushing the vessel back over the Bocas with 13 people could be dangerous,” Acosta said.
Acosta said the least the Coast Guard could do was to transport the crew and passengers safely back to Venezuela to ensure that no lives are lost.
National Security Minister Stuart Young did not respond to a phone call or a Whatsapp message asking whether he was aware of the situation and if there was a ban on Venezuelan vessels coming to T&T. But well-placed sources indicated to Guardian Media that members of the Defence Force were only following instructions.
On April 23, the vessel Jhonnaly Jose left the Port of La Salina in the Valdez Municipality of the Sucre State to make a three-hour journey to Chaguaramas. Overloaded with 25 passengers, it began experiencing difficulties in the choppy waters off the east coast of Patos Island and eventually sank. Only nine people survived.