ACCORDING to one estimate, between 150 to 200 Venezuelans enter this country every week by boat. And with the State’s proposed amnesty period due to open in just over a week, the traffic is likely to pick up. So that while the Ministry of National Security has received conflicting reports over a possible capsize of a pirogue carrying Venezuelans, Minister of National Security Stuart Young needs to send a clearer signal that this country will take its obligations under international law seriously when it comes to search-and-rescue operations.
Questioned in the Senate on Tuesday over a report that a pirogue capsized leading to the drowning of several passengers, Young said all that had been verified was that a person was picked up by a private marine vessel on its way to Grenada. He added the Coast Guard had liaised with Venezuelan counterparts and patrolled in the general area and found nothing.
While reports of this nature are difficult to verify before action is taken, the situation demands a more proactive approach in light of the clear history of vessels sinking in the Gulf of Paria, practices adopted by those being smuggled into the country, as well as the upcoming amnesty window which will bring ever greater volumes through our ports.
Young’s appearance in the Senate on Tuesday was a missed opportunity to update the nation on the fate of the reported 34 people who were on board a ten-metre fishing boat which sunk in April. Initially, 11 people were reported rescued. Are we to assume the remaining passengers have drowned?
TT has obligations under international law to help people who are lost at sea. Since 1989, we acceded to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue which states that, “on receiving information that any person is, or appears to be, in distress at sea, the responsible authorities…shall take urgent steps to ensure that the necessary assistance is provided.”
While scarce national resources cannot be deployed flippantly, the nature of the migrant flows from Venezuela means it is impractical to expect every single aspect of a report to be perfectly verified before that report is taken seriously.
For instance, the vessel that sank in April was carrying 25 named people and nine unnamed people. It would be impossible to confirm the identities of the nine before a search-and-rescue operation is undertaken. At the same time, it is possible that mischief-makers intent on diverting national security assets to serve their own ends could send authorities on wild goose chases.
For these reasons, strong protocols and surveillance procedures need to be in place to ensure that every report does not catch authorities off guard when it comes either to disproving it or forming the basis for mobilisation of resources. Are we ready for the coming wave?