A boat carrying about 14 bodies, a skull and skeletal remains was discovered drifting about four miles off the coast of Belle Garden, Tobago, early on Friday.
The police corporate communications unit confirmed this in a statement.
The clothed, decomposing bodies were found in crouched positions in the boat, which was towed to Clarke’s Bay around 8 am.
There, a command post was set up comprising various security and health agencies, including the Tobago Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), crime scene investigators and the office of the County Medical Officer of Health.
Up until news time, officials could not determine the nationality of the occupants nor the cause of their death, owing to the advanced state of decomposition of the bodies.
There were no documents on the vessel to indicate where it originated.
Fishermen Jason Broomes, Doyle Cornwall and Lance Biggart made the gruesome discovery shortly after 7 am.
Broomes, 42, of Richmond Point, said he had learnt from other fishermen that a strange boat was drifting in waters off Belle Garden. He said the men told him that fish were swirling around the boat and there was a foul smell coming from it.
Broomes said they were curious and decided to take a closer look.
They first discovered a body near the bow of the boat and on closer investigation, found several others.
Broomes said he quickly contacted a friend who is a member of the Coast Guard, stationed in Scarborough.
But he said his friend told him the Coast Guard did not have a vessel at its disposal to go out to sea and investigate.
Broomes considered his friend’s statement unacceptable.
“As a Coast Guard, there should always be a vessel on standby, because if someone was in difficulty and they call, the same thing that happen to the people (in the boat he found) would have happened to them too,” he said.
The police and other agencies were alerted and the fishermen pulled the vessel to the shore.
The bodies were eventually removed to the mortuary at the Scarborough General Hospital to await identification.
ACP William Nurse, who led a team of police at the scene, promised “a speedy solution to this matter.”
He said the bodies were all dressed in a “dark-coloured jumper clothing covered with a green-looking cape.”
He said the registration number on the boat is AG231.
“The marine division is looking to see if they can find the country of registration. So we are trying to ascertain the country in which the boat was registered.”
Nurse said post-mortems will be done on the bodies to determine the cause of death.
“We recommend that post-mortem is the best response to situations like this.”
President of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association Junior Quashie said the incident highlighted the need, yet again, to address the island’s porous borders.
“It is coming to light more and more what is happening in our waters and we call for a greater patrol of our vessels, which is the Coast Guard in our waters. It shows how open our waters are,” he told Newsday.
Quashie said Tobago must take a stand.
“Let the Coast Guard of Tobago defend Tobago. Too long we have been waiting for Trinidad to give us an okay. It is overbearing.
“I am not saying that the Coast Guard should be here, there and everywhere, but they should at least be able to respond in half-hour.”
Quashie claimed the Coast Guard in Tobago does not have the autonomy to make decisions on its own.
“We need to make decisions in Tobago for us in Tobago. That is one of the problems that is licking us up very bad.”
He said Tobago fishermen are willing to work with the Coast Guard.
THA Belle Garden/Goodwood representative Dr Faith BYisrael lamented the huge loss of life on the boat.
“It is disturbing that so many people lost their lives and we are not sure who they are, where they came from. I am sure that their families are missing them and wondering what happened to them,” she told Newsday.
BYisrael, who is also the Progressive Democratic Patriots’ deputy political leader, said the incident also highlighted the perceived inefficiencies in the operations of the Coast Guard.
“I think what is critical is the fact that we are seeing for another time where the Coast Guard services were needed to rescue, or to help tow, or were needed to function, and they seem to not be available to do so.
“We really need to figure out on the island of Tobago whether our borders are really secured and whether the Coast Guard is able to provide the services that we need to ensure that we do not have any kind of unmanaged entrance unto the island.”
BYisrael was alluding to guns, illegal drugs and other illicit substances.
“In this time of covid19," she added, "we need to be very careful about who comes to the island and we need to manage that process.”
She thanked the fishermen for raising the alarm and collaborating to ensure the boat was brought to shore.
This story was originally published with the title "Dead man found in boat in Belle Garden, Tobago" and has been adjusted to include additional details. See original post below.
The dead body of a man, believed to be a Venezuelan national, was found in a pirogue drifting in waters near Belle Garden early on Friday.
Reports are that a fisherman from the area spotted the boat and upon investigating, discovered the man’s body.
Investigations are continuing.