Police, Coast Guard, fail fishermen in distress

By Raffique Shah
August 22, 2010

Patrol BoatTWO murderous incidents that occurred last weekend exposed different sides of arms of the Protective Services, much of which is not flattering. In the first, sea-bandits attacked fishermen in a virtual orgy of violence that saw some six vessels seized by armed, masked men. The helpless fishermen, three of whom lived in my neighbourhood, were tossed into the sea miles offshore, and left to swim for their lives. The bandits-cum-killers conducted their ‘orgy’ from Pointe-a-Pierre to Otaheite.

This criminal attack, the biggest ever against fisher-folk, began at around 2 a.m. last Saturday, and ended around 5 a.m. By sunrise, around 10 persons from six boats were missing at sea, among them a 10-year-old boy who had gone on a fishing excursion that turned into a nightmare in the Gulf.

The first man who managed to swin to shore contacted the owner of the boat, Kishore Boodram. Boodram, a very vocal activist for the environment and for fisher-folk, immediately sprang into action. He first went to the St Margaret’s police station to alert the police to what had happened. At that time, he knew only that two men from his boat, one a young man I have known from childhood, were missing.

You would think that based on that report alone, the St Margaret’s police would also spring into action. The duty officer, even if he were the only person at the station, should have alerted all police stations and mobile patrols, as well as the Coast Guard. But this is Trinidad, where one does not “disturb” policemen at ungodly hours.

So what did the police at St Margaret’s do? They told Boodram he should go to the Couva station to make that report! So said, so done: Boodram made his way to Couva. There, the officer on duty re-directed him to the Oropouche station, which, for those who do not know their local geography, lies some 15 miles away, east of Mosquito Creek.

The now-frustrated Boodram did as he was told, by which time reports of further attacks started filtering in. The 10-year-old was tossed into the sea by these evil men as the bandits took the father with them—no doubt with murder on their minds. The father had the courage to jump off the captured boat to join his son, both on the high seas, miles from land.

At Oropouche, the duty officer took the report. Presumably, it was he who alerted the Coast Guard to what was happening. While Boodram was lodging the report, the station’s patrol vehicle returned. On seeing his vehicle parked directly in front of the station, the patrol officers loudly and crudely shouted at him, ordering him to remove his vehicle. He complied, but proceeded to climb the pavement nearby. “Yuh cyah park dey!” one cop shouted.

To cut a long and sorry, not to add sad, story short, while people were under attack at sea, and even as they were getting vital information that could have led to the arrest of the perpetrators of this dastardly crime, the policemen preferred to treated the matter like a minor traffic offence.

Now, the Coast Guard claimed they responded as soon as they got the first report. It would be interesting to see their log, to determine what time that was. Because by dawn, with some six or more persons missing at sea, it was other firshermen from my village who took to sea to search for survivors. All of Saturday, they searched off Petrotrin, San Fernando and further south.

I spoke with my late neighbour’s brother (and yes, poor ‘Bobo’, as I knew him, died) who, with some other young men from the area, was among those who conducted their own search, such is their lack of confidence in the police and the Coast Guard. The search went into the night and Sunday morning. By then they saw two CG cutters speeding at sea, presumably part of a search party. They spoke of no helicopters.

Finally, they spotted two persons on something fishermen call “the target”. “Uncle, I thought one was my brother,” Rolly later told me. It was not. Turned out the “lucky” duo was the father and son, now badly dehydrated, but nevertheless rescued alive. When the rescuers went to the CG vessel to deliver the duo, one officer accused them of “dealing in drugs” and sought to search their vessel.

Can you believe that? The men cussed them roundly, and resumed their search. They would eventually find Bobo’s body wrapped in a net. The CG, I believe, found my other neighbour’s body, and the third washed ashore late Sunday.

Now, I want the Coast Guard and the Police Commissioner to tell me if their officers’ conduct in this major tragedy is what citizens must accept. And don’t give me ‘bull’ about quick response, efficiency. Brigadier John Sandy should not parrot the PR responses he got from the CG or the police. He needs to delve deeper into this gross dereliction of duty, their failure to help citizens in distress.

Bear in mind up to the time of writing this piece (in anger, I should add), not a word about investigations, suspects, the elusive bandit-boat, nothing!

In contrast, officers of the Anti-Kidnapping Squad must be highly commended for their efficiency in rescuing the mother-and-child in the Freeport incident. The AKS has proved itself for some time now, hence the decline in kidnappings.

But their colleagues and the Coast Guard? I am tempted to say, “heng dem”!

9 thoughts on “Police, Coast Guard, fail fishermen in distress”

  1. It would be a good thing of the fishermen could get hand radios to call for emergencies. Yes, I agree that the police and coast guards are a joke in this modern age of crime and murders in Trinbago. I hope this new government equip our police and other national security forces with better equipment to stop this mayhem. Enough is enough. Will people have to arm themselves to stop murders and crime?

  2. The police force is arrogant and this is not the first time this arrogance has been displayed. The officers who treat the reporting fisherman with disdain and disrespect should either be fired or discipline. It is the only way to make the police more accountable. Whenever people go to report crime to the police they are either laugh at or told a vehicle is not available or worst the report is not made and treated with any sense of urgency. If they come to your place late in the night chances are they will be drunk.

    The fisherman who made the report should not be told to go to another police station. The report should be taken and faxed or email or telephone to the particular jurisdiction. A citizen should not be sent to another police station!!! That is morally and ethically wrong. Why in the world should a person in terrible distress be told he is at the wrong police station??? The entire reporting system should be computerised and the information available to all police stations across the nation.

    In today’s world a police secured website should be on the ready for all police communications. If the nation is under attack the police should know instantly across the nation. If a citizen is attacked on the high seas all police station should know. It is time T&T get on the information highway.

    The terrible thing about this story is that it will be repeated again and again because third world thinkers do not want to deal with the demons in the police force. The good cops who work hard to put their lives on the line for the nation does not DESERVE this, please get rid of the moron in the force pronto…

  3. You got an incompetent police force in Trinidad. It is amazing that they sometimes catch thieves or criminals. What do the Police have radios and telephones for? There was no need to send this man to several stations to report the same thing. The first stations should have immediately notify the coast guard to spring into action. A call should have also been put forward to Sandy, advising him of the seriousness of the attack. The officers at the three police stations need to be disciplined because it seems that they do not know their job and they are failing to protect society. Did the coast guard leave the shores to look for the bandits? If they did not spring into actions immediately, then they should be all charged for neglecting their duty. The new Police Commissioner will have a lot on his hands.

  4. Do something about ST JAMES POLICE STATION most of the officers there should be retrained….

  5. Are these police & coast guard officers volunteers or are our tax dollars paying them? Do they have families? Don’t police stations have radio facilities to contact other stations/law enforcement agencies?
    Is there going to be a thorough inquiry into this horrendous crime and the accompanying indifference/incompetence of the officers at all stations involved?

  6. We cannot complain about the competency and efficiency of the Police force of T&T, without first understanding the nature and mentality of the society in which the police exist and the nature of the system and society which select the officers who serve the people of T&T.
    Many young men and women who become police officers do so because their career prospects are limited by an education system which literally eliminates them from other more “desirable” occupations.I wonder how many young people choose law enforcement as a future career? I wonder how many stumble into police work?
    The mentality of the people of T&T has to to undergo a major attitude adjustement.Until the people begin to value the work which police do and until the people begin to view a career in law enforcement as a desireable endeavour, the police will forever feel undervalued and unappreciated.
    One of the unfortunate realities in T&T which retards the forward development of the country, is the restrictive colonial,uppity thinking that only certain professions are acceptable.How many pressure their children to study law, medicine,and other careers which are considered prestigious.
    Police officers are abused on a daily basis. They are underpaid, undervalued and looked upon as lesser human
    beings by many uninformed individuals in society.
    Are you surprised that they react with indifference? Are you surprised that they are not satisfied in their jobs? Do you think the situation is going to improve? I don’t, especially when the government is proposing a salary of over 20,000 US a month for the new police chief, probably at the expense of the ordinary officer who makes a tiny fraction of that obscene amount.

  7. My friend SG and I talked about this in 1985, when boats were also being hijacked. I said then, and I say now, each fishing boat should be equipped wih a microchip embedded in its license plate, they would allow the Coast Guard to monitor our boats movements in the Gulf. ANY RECCONOITE WITH A BOAT THAT IS NOT RECOGNIED,BY MICROCHIP READING, SHOULD ALERT THE COAST GUARD TO POSSIBLE DANGER.Piracy and drug transfers are both stealthy operations.

    THE COAST GUARD NEEDS TO BE ON REGULAR PATROL IN THE GULF,LIKE POLICEMEN ON US HIGHWAYS(US,i SAID, NOT tNt). DECENTRALIZTION IS A MUST.There must be coast guard stations at Icacos, Pt. Fortin, Pt.Lisas as well as Carenage/Chaguaramus. We are talking here of a rapid response team that can get help to the distressed as soon ss possible.

    In addition, every fisherman going to sea MUST have a lifevest which is to be worn at all times or have it so handy that its easily available if one has to jump.

    Each fishing boat should have a cell phone from which a distress call can be placed, and fishermen need to check their positions at all times, so that if one has to make call, one’s position would be fairly accurate.The cell phone should be in a ziplock type plastic bag, from which one can call without opening the bag and drowning the phone.

    Being a fisherman is no longer a boat and some gasoline and fishing lines. Each boat should be equipped to suvive a few days of engine breakdown.In the case of pirate attacks, one call should be sufficient.Policemen who play “send the fool a little fruther” in terms of jurisdiction, are playing the fool and should all be brought upon dciplinary charges.
    A universal 999 call should be that, universal. Staff at police stations need to be retrained in emergency response techniques. As I read Raffique’s piece, I saw this boy floating and floundering, while the police fumbled.I am glad he is alive.

    That is wrong, clearly wrong.

    There can be no excuse in the world for behaviour like that, except that in TnT, human life now seems to be worthless. How did we come to this sorry pass?

    On the other hand, when the police or Coast Guard attempt to intercept a boat in our territorial waters,let them NOT attempt to run from the police. Coast Guard boats need to be clearly marked with our flag painted in eflective colours for night patrols. The flag could be covered up for stealth work, and uncovered when needed.

    Under the Shiprider Agreement, currently in effect between the USA and TnT, we can ask for additional training in rescue, and intercepion from the US Coast Guard.

    I hope I have lit a candle here, rather thn simply condemn the darkness.

  8. “we can ask for additional training in rescue, and intercepion from the US Coast Guard.” No Madame L , the already overwhelmed boys and gals of the great Republic of these United States ,hands are already laden with trying to keep failed/post NAFTA Agreement Mexicans , and yes, Canadians from entering their borders , as well as all dem economic refugee Haitian boat people , and -wink , wink – high color ,political refugees running away from the lifetime socialist, octogenarian ,nutcase Castro ,and his simi conscious military henchman brother Raul’s Cuba.
    I simply adore the trend of our more progressive new age leaders of the PP government. Our Police Service was deemed by them to be a total failure , then do like PNM and bring a white foreigner to solve the problem. After all , look how kidnapping stats fell since your clueless FORMER pm Manning gave us the Scotland Yard blokes. If the Coast Guard cannot do their jobs, then why not this time around ,bring in a former Russian/Israeli ,to be in charge of the Ministry of National Security portfolio?
    With respect to the position of Coast Guard Commander, we can compromise , and ask Castro’s insecure Mitizo , wannabe brother Chavez, for a loan of one of his foul mouth , machete wielding former Military Navy Commander henchmen , for that task.
    They have done an excellent job at keeping Cedros, Erin, and Ecarcas fishermen out of their waters , even as they use the stupid agreements that were repeatedly signed by our Foreign Ministers, concerning territorial waters, and our oil/gas rights.
    Why some of us still choose to affiliate ourselves with this UNDERACHIEVING country is anyone’s guess.
    I am going to follow the lead of Uncle V.S Naipaul , aka’National Ingrate In Chief,’ and say ‘away with you mimic men!’ Just kidding folks.
    ‘I luv dis country , bad, bad, bad,’and the man or woman who can make me develop a hatred for it , ain’t born yet.

  9. ‘Finally, they spotted two persons on something fishermen call “the target”. “Uncle, I thought one was my brother,” Rolly later told me. It was not. Turned out the “lucky” duo was the father and son, now badly dehydrated, but nevertheless rescued alive. When the rescuers went to the CG vessel to deliver the duo, one officer accused them of “dealing in drugs” and sought to search their vessel.”

    Looks like the pieces are now coming together..

    ‘$1m ganja find
    Published: 25 Sep 2010
    Police officers and soldiers inspected 40 kilogrammes of marijuana discovered in a forested area in Springville, Claxton Bay, yesterday. The drug carried an estimated street value of $1 million. Five people were arrested and are expected to be charged with drug trafficking.’

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