Guyana’s annual May 1 Labor Day holiday celebrations were marred by news that 16 fishermen, most of them believed to be Guyanese, were missing and feared dead following a horrendous high seas attack off the coast of neighboring Suriname late Friday.
Suriname’s relatively large near shore fishing sector is crewed mostly by Guyanese fishermen from villages on the eastern coast and those from the Corentyne District in southeastern Guyana across the border river with Suriname. Most of them live and work in Suriname for various periods as crew members. Others use fishing permits owned by Surinamese and ply their trade there rather than at home because there are jobs aplenty. Authorities say four fishermen made it ashore, some with severe chop and other wounds they suffered during the attacks. They are talking with police.
What started out as a routine fishing trip off the coast near Commewijne District across the Paramaribo harbor, ended in tragedy after the first crewman who had managed to reach ashore alerted authorities that several boats with up to 16 men were attacked. Several of the fishermen including captains were either hacked to death with machetes, tied down with batteries as well as anchors and thrown overboard.
This is practically the normal modus operandi of pirates who drive fear into fishing crews working in coastal waters of the two Caribbean Community countries but authorities in both countries say the latest round of attacks which have claimed the largest number of lives in modern memory appear more to be a case of mass murder.
Officials are convinced that the attacks on the boats appear not to involve robbery as the main motive as precious little was taken from the vessels. During regular pirate attacks, fishing nets, glue, the fish and shrimp catch, engines and even anchors are stolen but this appears not to be the case this time.
Police in both countries say they are probing reports in the fishing community about a revenge attacks for the deaths of a pirate gangster in Suriname recently, hence the brutality of the attacks and reports about little or nothing being taken. Survivors say their attackers spoke with Guyanese accents.
There have been dozens of similar attacks on crews in recent decades. Three Guyanese pirates are in remand prison awaiting trial for killing three crewmen in Guyanese waters a year ago. Others have received lengthy sentences for similar attacks and are serving time in Surinamese jails.
Surinamese Coastguard Commander Jerry Sliingard said Wednesday that despite the passage of time, search boats and light commercial aircraft are continuing to scour the general area but officials warn that it is now more of a body recovery exercise rather than search and rescue.
He said representatives from the fishing community are both on aircraft and boats involved in the search. The Guyanese coastguard said the area is too far away from its coastal base to make a difference.
Relatives of the missing and or dead, in the meantime, have begun to accept and brace for the worst, posting pictures and tributes on social media sites. One very despondent sister even apologized for all the wrongs she might have done to her brother and mumbled about the initial slow response of authorities to act after they were first alerted, allegations officials deny.
“We’ve lost hope in getting my brother here alive. Six days to be in the middle of nowhere is a lot of days but we need his body. We need to bury him. He was loved. He has family and friends that loved him. We need to give him a burial,” said Jay Jones, sister of rookie crew member Glenroy Jones, 21. “How are we supposed to celebrate mother’s day. Our children are missing. They are assumed dead. This didn’t just touch my family, it was felt throughout the country. To other family members and friends who’re still praying, still hoping n still believing you’re not alone, we’ll cross this bridge too. God see your son through this one. See him through this, give us a testimony, another reason to praise your name,” she said.
Many of the Guyana-based relatives and family members have already crossed over into Suriname but as time goes by, hopes for a miracle are fading.
Surinamese lawmaker Carl Breeveld said the attacks “were indescribably cruel” as he urged that the attackers be brought to justice.