The disposal or repatriation of the bodies found in a boat off Belle Garden in Tobago waters last week has been placed in the hands of National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.
Foreign and Caricom Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne said the government is working with the Permanent Mission in the UN to establish some contact with Mauritania, the North African country the boat came from
Islam is the official religion of Mauritania, and under Islamic rites, dead bodies are disposed of almost immediately.
But ASJA PRO Imam Raffaic Mohammed said this is a matter of national security, and if the bodies are to be disposed of here, there are two Muslim funeral agencies registered with the State to handle the process.
Mohammed explained why Muslims disposes of their dead so quickly.
“For two reasons: the Prophet says if a wicked or deviant person dies, you relieve the burden of the family who are alive.
“If, on the other hand, the person is a righteous or pious person, he would be in a hurry to meet his Lord. If you delay you would be keeping him back from meeting his maker.”
Autopsies began on the 15 bodies, including one set of skeletal remains found on the boat, on Tuesday and were scheduled to continue on Wednesday.
TT does not have diplomatic links with Mauritania. Newsday asked Browne whether he was able to make contact with the country and what are the next steps upon completion of the autopsies: whether the bodies would find a resting place in TT or be repatriated to Mauritania.
He said, “We are working on this matter through our permanent mission to the UNs. The relevant informal contacts have already been made.
“On completion of their preliminary work, the Ministry of National Security will be sending us a formal request that will be officially conveyed to the counterpart mission of Mauritania.”
He did not give a timeline for when this process would be completed or whether there is sufficient cold storage to keep the bodies, given the increase in the number of covid19 deaths during May.
He said those questions were better directed to the Ministry of National Security and the police. However, calls and messages sent to Hinds received no response.
On the question of the men’s religion, Mohammed said although they are purported to be from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, he was not certain whether they were members of the faith.
“First of all, that is a Ministry of National Security issue. In other words, the minister is now the agent or guardian of those bodies. He would know the diplomacy involved.
“If their families want their bodies back, they could request their government appeal to our government to bring them back home.
“If however, the Government of Mauritania gives our government the go-ahead to dispose of the bodies here in TT, they could get the funeral homes to handle that. There are registered Muslim funeral homes which can assist Government with that.’
Police say the boat on which the men were found, which bears the registration number AG 231, was believed to have been stolen and there is an investigation into the circumstances of the boat being in their possession in Mauritania.