By Raffique Shah
August 22, 2010
TWO 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”!