Relatives of a young woman who was among 22 passengers on board the Ana Maria, the vessel that has not been seen since it sailed from Güiria in Venezuela bound for T&T, say she had been promised a job at a resort hotel where the income of up to US$1,000 a week was guaranteed.
Kelly Zambrano, 19, a psychology student from Táchira, a state in western Venezuela, was last heard from at around 4.30 pm last Thursday when she phoned relatives and told them: “I’m already on the boat. Communicate with my friend and tell her that we are leaving and that we will arrive at the time (8 pm) that she estimated.”
The friend Zambrano referred to in that conversation was a young woman who was supposed to be waiting for her in Trinidad.
According to reports in Venezuelan media, Zambrano had originally arranged to travel to this country on April 27 but the journey was postponed following reports that a vessel had capsized and sank in the Gulf of Paria, near the Dragon’s Mouth.
A relative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the news website talcualdigital.com that the family has been getting conflicting reports about the fate of the Ana Maria, including that it had turned back after experiencing problems and that it had been hijacked.
Expressing doubt and confusion about the situation, the relative said they have since found out that the vessel had been rented by a group of people “who would take care of the passengers, including the captain.”
He said there have been cases recently where boats have been reported missing “then the captain appears, then days later more of the crew. Only men return, women do not. We assume that it is a matter of trafficking, or something illegal. There is no other reason.”
Zambrano, who had dropped out of university because it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to pay tuition fees and other expenses, wanted to work abroad to help support her family.
She arranged to travel from San Cristóbal, the capital of Táchira to Puerto La Cruz, then Cumaná and finally Güiria to board the pirogue. She left her home on May 12 and kept in touch with relatives as she made her way across Venezuela, calling them when she arrived in Puerto La Cruz and then Cumana where she stayed in a hotel overnight before continuing on to Güiria.
Early on Tuesday, Zambrano left for Güiria but when she arrived there she found out that the vessel would not be leaving on Wednesday as originally planned.
“Finally on Thursday, they embarked,” the relative said.
The Zambrano family has expressed doubt about the person who was supposed to be waiting for Zambrano in T&T. They said she was the young woman who convinced Zambrano she could help her get her a good job in T&T.
The relative said: “She told her that she would work at a resort, that she could take up to three working days . . . and thus earn about $1,000 a week. That’s why Kelly accepted, although from the bottom of my heart I did not want her to leave.”
At around 11.30 pm on the night that Zambrano left Güiria, her family tried unsuccessfully to contact the person who was supposed to be waiting for her in Trinidad.
When they finally made contact with the woman the next day, she told them: “I’m waiting at the dock and they have not arrived. I called the man on the boat and he told me they went back because there was a problem.”
The family is now desperately seeking answers about Zambrano’s whereabouts.