Wednesday’s tragedy concerning the Venezuelan boat which overturned en route to T&T reinforces the need for this country—as Venezuela’s closest neighbour—to have a better border protection framework, says the Opposition United National Congress.
Opposition senators spoke about the issue yesterday following their meeting with the Election and Boundaries Commission.
Multiple deaths were feared after the “Jhonnaly Jose,” believed to have been carrying 34 people—mainly women—overturned en route to Trinidad’s west coast on Wednesday. The vessel sank near Patos Island, five miles off Venezuela’s coastline and in Venezuela’s maritime rescue co-ordination zone.
Yesterday evening, acting National Security Minister Edmund Dillon said T&T’s Coast Guard reported nine people were rescued—but 25 others were still unaccounted for up to then. The T&T Coast Guard was aiding search/rescue operations.
The United Nations Refugee Unit (UNHCR) in T&T, responding via release, noted the pirogue’s passengers included women and children. UNHCR added, “This tragic incident underscores the desperation of those forced to flee their homes and the extraordinary difficulties faced on their journeys.”
Yesterday morning, UNC Senator Gerald Ramdeen said the Opposition didn’t have all the information, “But we express deepest condolences to the Venezuelan families affected by the tragedy and the Venezuelan people. It’s very unfortunate people may have lost their lives in this incident and there were no patrols nearby to assist.”
Ramdeen questioned if the boat which overturned had been bringing people to T&T to try to access this country’s upcoming amnesty for Venezuelans. Saying Government had always denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, he added that the crisis is obviously costing lives.
“We’ve heard Government say they were making efforts to put 14 interceptors into use after several years. But T&T doesn’t have time to waste on this. The Coast Guard must have a better ability to patrol surrounding waters in view of the what’s taking place in Venezuela,” Ramdeen said.
“Sea transport is a problem that affects the lives of everyone, whether they’re trying to come from Venezuela to T&T or vice versa. Also, sometimes people need to be protected from themselves. This incident reveals the disturbing fact that we’ve not had any policy from Government though its election manifesto promised broader protection policy. But nothing’s been done. The southwest border isn’t manned properly, which is why T&T’s suffering a migrant crisis currently.”
UNC Senator Saddam Hosein said under the Law of the Sea, any T&T vessels in the area where the pirogue overturned would have been obligated to respond and a proper border protection framework might also have ensured a better T&T presence in surrounding waters.
“Pretty soon we might see the water taxi having to respond to issues at sea,” Hosein said.
- by Gail Alexander. Photo by Nicole Drayton.